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VIN GARBUTT - "Plugged" - Home Roots Music HRCD011

With eager hands I opened the parcel, critical faculties honing themselves to a fine edge as I did so, to find ... the first "live" album by the Greatest Living Teesider, Vin Garbutt, for years. And it's good. How's that for objective forensic analysis so far? Much was said in issue 14 of Living Tradition about Vin and I won't repeat any of it, as it in turn echoed much of what I feel about his importance and have already taken up many column inches in past editions on the subject. I'll struggle to be impartial throughout this review, however, but make no promises.

Whilst other artists have gone acoustic, Vin over his last three albums has used various backing musicians. To complete this apparent perversity, this album recorded solo at the Red Lion in Birmingham is titled "Plugged". The reason is given on the album, and like the badinage that goes on I'm avoiding telling any of it so's not to spoil it for you.

It's Vintage Vin from the opener "Wings" which I'd never heard before. The essence of this one is to be found in the lines: "Why do people cage the things they love most? Is it simply that they fear to be alone? If you give your love its freedom it may stay awhile, If it leaves you it was never yours to own"

It's a crackingly good song which I just can't envisage anybody else doing justice to. For those who might hear this but have never seen Vin, they'd rightly judge it as an excellent song sung by a soaring gift of a voice. For those who have watched the transformation that takes place on stage, there's the extra dimension. What transformation? - I'll tell you.

Vin has never been regarded, (as far as I know) as the picture of sartorial elegance. Nor does his approach of demeanour near the realms of the suave. His between songs persona is that of an eccentric, bemused, sometimes foxy looking, shambolic teller of shaggy dog stories, good naturedly taking an audience along on a trip that he makes look effortless.

It's when he opens up with a song like this, though, that the transformation happens, and you find yourself in the presence of one of the world's most soulful and feeling singers pouring his heart out. Here you can catch yourself blinking in wonder at the fact that the clown who had you in stitches a few seconds before has disappeared and has been replaced by a figure of searing dignity. It is this alternation between the two sides of Garbutt that guarantees a night that no other performer in my view can match. Yes, there are many others who can ring the changes but none so utterly profoundly, and this record captures a lot of that magic.

There's old favourites here such as "Man of the Earth" done slightly faster than the studio version (so don't worry you're not getting an exact replica of something you already have for your dosh) and some newies such as "Darwin to Dih". If art has something to do with making the listener perceive something familiar in a manner that reveals hitherto unsuspected dimensions, then by the criteria "Believe me if all those endearing young charms" is art. It's been said that the essence of wit is that you thrust and parry straight away - not a day and a half later in the privacy of your own mind. Hear Vin take on a heckler, and respond to the odd comment from the audience and you hear wit at work. It's always been a problem with live albums that chat, jokes and so on can wear a bit thin after a while. On this album "Fell Off the Back of A Boat" is a light item which doesn't pretend to be anything other than that, and I've seen it work well in live performance. However, coupled with a lengthy anecdote it could become wearisome under frequent repetition, but with modern CD technology the problem is easily avoided. This is a small matter of detracting in no significant way from a very fine album which is the record of an obviously very fine night at the Red Lion, which could only have been bettered if Michael Jackson had wandered on stage and been given a clip round the lug for his trouble. I doubt if I'll hear anything better this year but don't take my word - have a listen.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 16 of The Living Tradition magazine.