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HUGHIE JONES "Seascape" - Fellside FECD147

When you tell people that you like folk music they still sometimes say "What, like the Spinners?" And you smile and say "Well, sort of".

This album from ex-Spinner Hughie Jones is like the Spinners. well, sort of. I don't remember them being so thoroughly maritime or so lavish (a huge 75 minutes here) or quite so good. Hughie's voice has become a warm, tawny thing for which most younger singers would sell their souls. He uses it on 25 songs which give an unsentimental, occasionally unsettling portrait of a salt sea sailor's harsh life and fleeting loves.

The material is mostly traditional and mostly familiar. Some favourite old girls are down the docks - Sally Brown and Maggie May and Liverpool Lou. In "The Firebird" there's a more startling encounter with a woman "of the rakish kind" who isn't quite what she seems. Yes, we get around - leaving Liverpool, calling in at Venezuela and rounding the Horn in all sorts of windjammers, schooners and clippers. Hughie hits the mark with three fine unaccompanied songs better known to folk clubbers than shantymen - "Henry Martin", "Van Diemen's Land", and "Ye Mariners All". And he shows his songwriting skills in "W.C.S.A" (the West Coast of South America to me and thee), "The Derbyshire" (about the unexplained sinking of a merchant ship in the South China Sea), and "Down Easters".

Hughie is a wise man. He has found a mix to satisfy old fans and bring him some new ones. And, as with "Hughie's Ditty Bag" (FECD81), he has lugged this project up the coast from Liverpool to Workington, where the good people of Fellside dwell. The production and musicianship on this album is honest and uncluttered, with Brian Peters on melodeon and concertina, honorary Spinner John McCormick on double bass, Mark Newport on fiddle, Neil Reay-Bennett on mandolin, Hughie on guitars, banjo and harmonica, and his son Dan on keyboard.

Don't expect cutting edge, but do expect to be informed and entertained. Occasional immersion in salt water can be good for you.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 36 of The Living Tradition magazine.