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JOHNNY COPPIN "Keep the Flame" Red Sky Records RSKCD 117

It takes skill to conjure up all the emotions of winter in a seven track EP but celebrated Cotswolds singer-songwriter Johnny Coppin has done just that in this beautiful and inspirational new acoustic album.

It's the first album of new material in six years for the former member of cult folk rock band Decameron but the bittersweet mix of music manages to convey joy, hope, nostalgia, remembrance and poignancy - perfect for the reflective Christmas and winter season.

Coppin is an accomplished performer with over 30 years experience in the music industry, renowned for his pure, clear vocals, guitar and keyboard playing. But his one-time fears of being stuck with " a choir boy image" due to his distinctive tenor voice have proved unfounded. He has always had an unusual voice but this album shows it has deepened into a richer, more mellow sound that does all these tracks justice.

Encouraged to make the album by audience reaction to new material on his perennially popular "A Country Christmas" tour, this is a fusion of his own and others songs. Skilfully crafted and produced by Coppin and the indispensable Mick Dolan at a Malverns studio it kicks off with a new acoustic version of the title track, Keep the Flame, about gathering family and friends together at Christmas. Written by Coppin and Dolan (who also plays guitar on the album) it is a strong song but those familiar with the electronic version may miss Dolan's sublime extended guitar playing at the end of the track.
Dermot O'Reilly's enchanting Children's Winter" is a song Coppin learnt from Canadian band The Barra McNeills while Astrologer's Journey is a never before recorded Decameron song, written by Coppin and fellow Decameron band member Dave Bell and featuring effective backing vocals from two more ex Decameron members, Geoff March and Dik Cadbury. It tells the story of the three wise men from the East and, topically, throws up the names of Iran and Iraq, adding, " we were looking forward but you're still looking back."

Coppin's setting of the Christina Rosetti poem Love Came Down at Christmas offers wonderful guitar work from Dolan but for me the highlights are the beautiful Sampson/Lavery song Get Me Through December, originally recorded by Alison Krauss and the fragile and elevating You Raise Me Up, learnt from Norwegian/Irish duo Secret Garden.

Multi instrumentalist Paul Burgess, who plays a mean fiddle throughout, displays some energetic recorder playing in the final, upbeat tune on the album - the instrumental Galician Carol which captures the promise of the return of summer and all the sunshine of Spain.

A seasonal delight of an album, it could be listened to whenever, but will take on a special magic at Christmas time - especially as it is also a brilliant stress buster!

Coppin perhaps remains one of our most underrated folk artists but when it comes to the kind of material on "Keep the Flame" few can hold a candle to him..

Jane Brace

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This album was reviewed in Issue 56 of The Living Tradition magazine.