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LAL WATERSON & OLIVER KNIGHT "Once In A Blue Moon" Topic TSCD478

Lal Waterson is not a prolific writer, her last major release was "Bright Phoebus" with brother Mike back in '72, but quantity and quality are seldom synonymous. One of her earlier works, "The Scarecrow", was recorded by June Tabor, a lady with no mean ear for a good song, and more recently Lal has appeared on the No Masters Voice sampler with "Midnight Feast", together with her son, Oliver Knight who co-produced the song with John Tams.

On "Once In A Blue Moon" we have the collaboration with Oliver extended. Thirteen songs from Lal set to electric arrangements by Oliver, who also produced all tracks except two: "Midnight Feast", and co-production with Jim Boyes, "Stumbling On".

As one might expect from Lal, the overall mood tends to be sombre and other worldly, with an underlying melancholy which on some tracks can tilt over into a feeling of dread or even foreboding, but which is nevertheless always compelling. The imagery is often oblique and is woven into stark accompaniments which are sometimes disorienting. The lightness on "Flight of the Pelican" is underpinned by guitar work which shifts it, giving it a strangeness, a distancing, and on "Her White Gown" the convoluted lyrics are further distorted by Knight's double tracked guitars. "Phoebe" has fuzz-box guitar, with riffs redolent of Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells", which combined with Ray Williams on drums and echo on the vocals brings an air of strange poignancy to the song. There is plaintive sax from Jo Freya on "Stumbling On", where she also shares vocals with Lal and Maria Gilhooley, and elsewhere the combination of arrangement and singing has shades of Marianne Faithfull's "Broken English" album. The rousing unaccompanied harmonies from Lal and Oliver, Norma Waterson, Maria Gilhooley, and Coope, Boyes and Simpson, on "Some Old Salty", the final track, are reminiscent of the style of The Watersons in the sixties, but it is given a quite different treatment.

"Once In A Blue Moon" is not immediately, or easily, accessible and the lyrics challenge the listener, inviting interpretation. However, they are sometimes overshadowed by the guitar work, which unfortunately seems to lack cohesive style and is, at times, of questionable relevance. Nonetheless, the album is a "grower" and benefits from repeated playing, and represents a major piece of work from a writer of considerable stature.

Mel Howley

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