Ralph McTell,
The Boy With a Note
(Leola, 1999)

Take a moving and insightful journey into the very heart of the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

Singer-songwriter Ralph McTell has managed to cleverly evoke the spirit of Thomas through the mechanism of a private detective. The choice of a private eye is a fitting way to view Thomas given his "secret" passion for the works of Raymond Chandler.

To fully appreciate this CD, read the enlightening liner notes and then listen. This concept album, which originally aired on BBC Radio 2, is filled with 10 songs intercut with revealing narration by McTell's poetic gumshoe and two poems featuring the vocal talents of Nerys Hughes and the booming Bob Kingdom. All but one song is sung by McTell; "Caitlins Dream" is covered beautifully by Maggie Reilly from Caitlin Thomas's perspective.

The story takes us from the sea lapped shore to Thomas's yearning for long-limbed "Summer Girls" through to a sad but touching end in "Cradled in the Rocking Boat." The life of Thomas, both bad and good, is laid bare in this treasure trove of songs. McTell has obviously managed to truly understand the turning points in Thomas's life and imbues them with a real sense of humanity and tragedy, which accounts for the simmering power behind his lyrics. Those lyrics (themselves at times sound like Thomas could have written them) are as informative as the best biographies written on the Welsh bard. The very essence of the poet is distilled here, like a fine Welsh whiskey, blended both with the private Dylan Thomas and with the larger than life figure that he projected in his public persona.

Simply put, this is a masterpiece by arguably one of England's greatest living singer-songwriters. Ralph McTell is a master at his craft.

by Andrew Morris
19 November 2005

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