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JOHN KIRKPATRICK "Blue Balloon" MW Records MWCD4022

I didn't have the same unreserved fondness for the Topic album of which this is a reissue back in 1988 and the original vinyl has been largely untouched by stylus around these parts since well, 1988! All John's own songs and with Richard Thompson on guitars, it shows the latter's influence in the edgy, spiky nature of the playing a lot of the bleak lyricism. Naturally enough as "Blue Balloon" stems from the time when John was part of Richard's "Daring Adventures/Amnesia" touring band with Clive Gregson and Chris Collister (on backing vocals here). This era too was the tail-end of the first Brass Monkey chapter, hence Howard Evans and Roger Williams on trumpet and trombone as part of the recording's house band.

By turns the mood is sparse and angry in songs like the title track, brooding in "Black Against the Snow" and choppy punk-urgent ("Dogs Gone Wild") - it's almost as though John was driven to make this record. As though there were things screaming to be said on which he couldn't keep the lid any longer. In retrospect I think it was a great creative leap, his equivalent of Dylan plugging in a in re-evaluation, I like it! It's vital, stretches out and has a depth that demands attention. Let down perhaps by the throw-away "Don't Shoot I'm Wearing My Seat Belt" there are neat touches of gentle humour in "Laudroloverette" and a rockin' Johnny K. on "Hole in My Heart" but the best song has to be the majestic, unaccompanied "A Length of Yarn".

Flashes of genius, hints of menace, bursts of melody - add to this a wide range of subject matter addressing ecological, socio-political and personal ills with a questioning cynicism and you've got the Folk equivalent to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" - Honest.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 33 of The Living Tradition magazine.