Bob Fox,
The Blast
(Topic, 2006)

British folk veteran Bob Fox comes out of the generation that produced Martin Carthy, Archie Fisher, John Tams, Nic Jones and others whose music is rooted deeply in the native soil. That means that the attempts to infuse American forms -- old-time, rural blues or Bob Dylan -- are refreshingly infrequent. The English-Scottish ballad is where it all starts, and from there it goes to the guitar, not a traditional instrument but one these revival masters have adapted in all sorts of interesting ways to music originally performed by unaccompanied voice or by fiddles or pipes.

John Tams produces The Blast, which is just Fox's voice (an attractive light baritone) and his guitar, plus 10 first-rate songs, half of them traditional and the rest a whole lot like it. "The Recruited Collier" may or may not be traditional, I might mention here; what is known for certain, at least, is that the eminent British folk-music scholar A. L. Lloyd's editorial hand is heavy in the version that started getting performed in the folk clubs half a century ago. That academic point aside, it is a worthy song.

So are all of them, in fact. Fox takes the trouble not to recycle standard versions of even the household ballads. "Still Growing" ("The Trees They Do Grow High") and "Trooper Cut Down" (from the "Unfortunate Rake" cycle, which incorporates the American variants "St. James Infirmary," "Dying Crapshooter's Blues," "Tom Sherman's Bar" and "Streets of Laredo") are at once old friends and fresh acquaintances, with some out-of-the-ordinary lyrics and unique melodies.

Other, more lately composed ballads, from the pens of Alex Glasgow (the pretty, melancholic "All in a Day"), "One Miner's Life" (Ed Pickford, adapting the same melody Dylan stole for "Masters of War") and Eric Bogle ("Song of the Whale," coupled smartly in a medley with the old whaling tune "Bonny Ship the Diamond"), are labor songs from the pointedly left point of view characteristic of British revival singers, next to whom many of their American contemporaries sometimes seem like Republicans.

I have loved this sort of stuff since the first time I heard it many years ago, and Bob Fox is a good and honorable practitioner of it. The Blast won't blow out your ear drums, but it will surely please them.

review by
Jerome Clark

30 August 2008

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