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BERNIE PARRY "Man of the Earth" Punch Music PUNCD9601

The biographical data that was helpfully included with my review copy of this CD states that "in 1986 Bernie took s sabbatical from the folk scene until he was approached by Dave Mallinson to record a new album and to compile a songbook". Eh? "Sabbatical"? More likely a "Mondayical", "Tuesdayical" and "Wednesdayical" also! It's been a long time. And this welcome CD goes some way towards filling the sense of void.

It's a nice mix of old and new. Six songs are new digital recordings of songs which appeared on his first album "Sailing to the Moon" (long deleted). The other eight are new/newish i.e. previously unrecorded.

Now with Bernie Parry it helps if you understand one thing straight off. How can i put it? ... Currently the world's shortest book is "In Praise of Older Women" by Bill Wyman, but were he to pen "Interpreting Other People's Songs", Bernie would be the new champ! That is to say here is a performer who only does his own stuff. (He doesn't realise he has it in him to do sublime interpretations of Allan Taylor, Jez Lowe et al ... but that's another story!)

Of the new songs, two grabbed me. "Jack of Hawthorn" an interesting and touching song about a hermit living rough on that extraordinary stretch of coastline around Eastington Colliery, Co. Durham ... and "A Picture of You and Me" which melodically has "got it" and also features Bernie exquisitely harmonising with himself. Of the old favourites "The Village Fool" and "Davy" still work their old bitter-sweet magic. "The Harper" sees more of Bernie's superb self-harmonies.

But of course it's the title song that inevitably sweeps all before it. One day a learned thesis will come out of it. Comparisons will be made between Parry's original and Vin Garbutt's interesting word changes. When Parry sings "I Think It's His Joy and His Pride" (last line of chorus) and Garbutt "It's His Only Joy and His Pride" ... I guess there's not much meat to be picked off that bone!

But when Parry sings "And He Stands By Himself at the Bar Slowly Sipping A Solitary Jar", and that is juxtaposed with Garbutt's "And He Stands with His Mates at the Bar Slowly Sipping a Solitary Jar" ... it seems to me that these are two quite separate images, and Garbutt's (accidentally?) the stronger one.

Incidentally, this version of "Man of the Earth" features the best brass band accompaniment since Richard & Linda's "I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight". I say "brass band" because it sounds like the real thing alright: but my sleeve notes tell me "Thanks to the Van Sante/Parry Champion Works Band", Seeing as Rob Van Sante was Bernie's co-producer and vital musician associate on the album, something tells me that these brass band musicians were not so much "session men" as their synthesiser equivalent! But stunningly authentic and effective. There's nothing "synthetic" in my imploring you to buy this album. Not one weak song ... and one all-time classic to boot.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 19 of The Living Tradition magazine.