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JOHNNY COLLINS "Now And Then" Old & New Tradition ONTCD2002

Ever-reliable Johnny, that self-styled "pedlar of songs", recently celebrated 40 years in the business. He is widely regarded as possessing one of the most satisfyingly resonant voices on the folk scene; he is also a top-flight interpreter of an intimidatingly wide range of material (traditional folk ballads, sea-shanties, drinking songs, rural and industrial folksongs). He really excels himself on this, his latest CD. It does, however, ring the changes from his previous releases rather, in that here Johnny could be said to be "doing a Roy Bailey" in presenting a set consisting almost entirely of songs by contemporary writers (though admittedly many are in a folk idiom).

This time, quite a few of the songs have a fishing connection - there's Tommy Makem's "Boys Of Killibegs", Shelley Posen's "No More Fish", Dave Evanson's "North Wall" and Nanne Kalma's "She Stands On The Quay", tremendous songs all. There are some nicely judged instrumental contributions scattered throughout the CD too, notably Bob Walser's banjo and concertina, Mick Pearce's guitar and Dave Thomas's violin/viola. (Though I'm not sure that the choice of piano accompaniment does much for Ian Bruce's "Too Far From She", which I'd have preferred hearing unaccompanied).

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, it's the seven a-cappella tracks at the heart of the CD that pack the most punch, with some typically warm chorus vocals from Webber, Fentiman, Watkinson et al. Mick Ryan's spirited modern gospel song "Prince Of Peace" resounds very aptly out of Dave Webber's own rightly famed "Parting Song", which has probably has never sounded better (at least on record!). Johnny's intense, richly poignant reading of Barrie Temple's "River Days" is a real highlight, and surpasses even Salt Of The Earth's own fine recording. And his version of Les Sullivan's potent anti-war song "Jutland" is very moving indeed (memo: must get round to learning that one tout-de-suite! But then, hearing Johnny sing often has that effect on me.. - and, as Johnny himself would I'm sure be the first to say, that's exactly as it should be!).

The fulsome presence of the recording is such that Johnny really is right there with you in the room; it's like having your own private folk club in the snug of your favourite local, and in my opinion there's simply no finer way of spending an hour!

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 42 of The Living Tradition magazine.