Jack Evans,
Once Upon a Time in the North
(Greentrax, 2002)

I was attracted by the list of songs and tunes featured on Once Upon a Time in the North, a new release by Jack Evans. They range from folk through Americana to good old pop of the 1960s.

"Walk Right In" opens the CD. I recall it from the 1960s but the notes tell me it dates from 1930 by a group named Gus Cannon & the Jugstompers. Folkies in the U.S. may recall the Rooftop Singers version. I love albums that give us trivia like that alongside excellent new renditions of the tunes. Evans marries the old track with even older traditional Scottish tunes and the result is magical. Here is a combination of traditional with innovation where everyone wins.

The presentation of the traditional Scottish music here is beautiful. The slow lament "MacGregor the Roarer" segues into faster-paced pieces without missing a beat as guitars, whistle and mandolin take on pipe tunes and win.

"Early Mornin' Train" is a well-known piece from the folk canon but Evans, with Mairi Campbell on vocals, brings it alive for a new generation. "Sandaig" opens with a live water sound from the waterfall of the same name. The tune is composed by Evans and Campbell and evokes the beauty of the Scottish countryside.

The sound speeds up with a reel called "Tarbolton," named after a village where Robert Burns is said to have spent some time. "The Ballad of Joe Meek" is classed in the notes as "Celtic spy movie music." James Bond is certainly evoked and the blending of that genre with the sounds of guitar, whistle and fiddle works surprisingly well. (Well, Sean Connery's Bond was Scottish and Brosnan is Irish, so why not Celtic espionage?)

"The Lass of Glenshee" is based on an old Scottish song, but this CD features a shorter version from Antrim. The production here is reminiscent of the folk albums of the mid-'60s with lots of echo and an ethereal feel.

I did say that this CD runs the gamut of genres and they really let their hair down on "Fugitives from URJAZ," which opens with lines from "Oh Sinner Man" and takes off in a frenzy of gospel, folk and bluegrass. I can imagine this as a great final song in a live show.

The CD has 10 tracks and not a dud among them. I will be watching for more from Evans in the future.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 26 April 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.