Benji Kirkpatrick,
Half a Fruit Pie
(Fellside, WHEN)

What a great debut solo release from Benji Kirkpatrick! He's been signed to Cumbria-based label Fellside, home to an exciting group of young, innovative English folk musicians, including Boden & Spiers and Dr Faustus (both of whom Kirkpatrick has recorded with), Andy May, 422 and the Witches of Elswick.

Kirkpatrick is an extremely talented bouzouki player -- it's unusual to see this instrument associated with English folk music, but here it is, large as life and played with a craftsman's skill and obvious relish! He plays guitars of all kinds, but settled on the bouzouki a few years back when working with an Irish-influenced duo. On Half a Fruit Pie, you really do sense Kirkpatrick's passion for his brand of music. Half the tracks are traditional English songs, and the others are Kirkpatrick's own.

The thing that shouts at me as I listen to Kirkpatrick's own compositions (which are far and away my favourites on the album) is his GREAT sense of fun and humour -- you really do pick this up from the lively, immensely rhythmic, even "cheeky" feel of these tunes -- which often feature changes in pace and tempo and manage to sound amazingly traditional. A tune like "Unclothed Nocturnal Manuscript Crisis" is a case in point -- Kirkpatrick clearly felt the urge to jump out of bed to get his ideas down on paper in the dead of the night (it's a cracking tune, too, with its brilliant guitar and Richard Adams' drums) -- hence the wacky title. I love his humorous rant on "Toxic Haze" -- and why not vent one's feelings at being stuck in a fume-filled, boring traffic jam by writing a song about it? It's a great number, with a great, great vocal! I love John Kirkpatrick's accordion and Seth Lakeman's fiddle on this one. The first tune on the album is "A Bed Between Friends/Urge to Caper" -- Kirkpatrick's skill on bouzouki impacts on the listener straight away.

On some of the traditional numbers, such as "Green Bushes," Kirkpatrick combines his vocal with some fine whistle playing. Hailing from the English county of Shropshire, Kirkpatrick includes a very simple traditional song "The Gypsy Laddie" -- he learned this one from his parents, acclaimed musicians John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris.

Kirkpatrick's voice has a directness, simplicity and appealing rawness of delivery that puts me in mind of two of his contemporaries, the English vocalists John Boden and Jim Moray. His voice is by no means perfect, but its earthy, direct quality is just excellent. Throughout these recordings, Kirkpatrick's bouzouki playing is exceptional and I consider this a very fine debut from a young English musician showing masses of promise.

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 21 August 2004