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That Lal's death last September robbed us of a singer and songwriter of huge skill and perception is beyond doubt, and "A Bed of Roses" is a fitting measure of just how immense our loss it. 1996's "Once in a Blue Moon" finally consolidated the obvious potential of Lal's lyricism that her contributions to "Bright Phoebus" made public twenty-five years earlier. It also revealed Lal's son, Oliver Knight (with his Uncle Martin's Fender) to be the ideal accompanist, engineer and all-round simpatico sidesman. With "A Bed of Roses" the partnership is expanded, previous strengths are built on, and an even more effective and intriguing album has resulted.

Guest artistes once again play a significant role, but never dominate proceedings. Jody Stecher contributes a delightful mandolin to "Columbine"; Charles O'Connor's strings leap from Mancini to Grappelli in "Foolish One"; Alice Kinlock, Jo Freya and Chopper do sterling trombone, sax and cello duty and Lal's daughter Maria joins her for a haunting duet of MacColl's "Just A Note". There are two instrumentals featuring keyboards and guitars (acoustic and electric) from Oliver which complement his faultless accompaniments throughout and contribute to the album's unified feel.

The unmistakable quality of Lal's unique singing voice is one of the most satisfying factors of "A Bed of Roses", and as added bonus she occasionally provides her own backing vocals. However, the song is ultimately the thing, though it has been wisely said in this house that Lal's writing is more akin to poetry than song. Her images embrace the commonplace and the highly abstract in a single line - deep emotions and everyday occurrences are interwoven making literal interpretation irrelevant - best to close your eyes and watch the pictures unfold. The title is slightly misleading - the full line is , "Who Wants It All A Bed of Roses Anyway?" which gives a rather different slant on this remarkable album from the remarkable Lal Waterson. May she rest in peace.

Alan Rose

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