Pete Morton,
(Harbourtown Records, 1999)

It's interesting that with all the folk CDs released every year, only a small percentage appear infused with creative joy. Even when projects are enkindled in delight, it is unfortunately not readily apparent. Pete Morton's latest, Trespass, is one of the releases innoculated with manifest exuberance.

Despite this compilation consisting primarily of familiar, traditional English folk songs, Morton clearly enjoyed molding these tunes in his own image. Backing himself solely on guitar, his engaging and stylish vocals are inflected with a sense of joie de vivre, giving these songs a new life. But that's the point when covering well-known tales -- putting your own indelible stamp on them.

Morton still possesses his trademark commanding, compelling voice -- quiet and subtle one moment, electrical and explosive the next. His ability to create a sense of urgency is unsurpassed. With this offering, he has firmly cemented his position as one of the great song stylists of the British Isles folk music scene, ranking right up there with Scotland's Dick Gaughan.

There is no one arc that flavors this release, a la a concept-type album. However, some "goode olde tyme" killing and maiming appears in a few of the cuts -- "The Banks of the Sweet Dundee," the faster-paced-than-usual "John Barleycorn" and "Little Musgrave." "Musgrave" contains a great retort from the wife to husband after he slays her lover. Asked what she has to say now, she replies, just before being dispatched:

"...more I like his dead body
than all your kith and kin."

The most moving composition, among more than a handful of candidates, is "The Rose In June." An emotional tale of lives lost and souls saved during a storm at sea, Morton sways back and forth, balancing delicate and forceful lyrics in his own inimitable style.

"A Farmer's Boy" is another sentimental tune. As Morton cheekily mentions in the liner notes, this is "a popular song about a successful job hunt." Unlike most of the other songs presented, this tale concludes with an uplifting, heartwarming finish.

The cleaving of military and family life is sadly covered in the slow-paced "The Banks of the Nile." The various options to keep a couple together just will not work when duty calls.

Immensely enjoyable, "The Mower and the Dairymaid" is ensconced in a montage of tongue-in-cheek, double entendre elements, presented in an invigorating, toe-tapping rhythm.

Released under the aegis of Harbourtown Records, which is managed by ex-Silly Wizard mates Gordon Jones and Bob Thomas, this is a minimalist offering. But isn't that how these classics should be presented?

You owe yourself to check this one out, whether you're a longtime Morton fan or uninitiated to his charms. Be forewarned though, the seduction is inevitable -- don't bother attempting to resist.

[ by Kevin McCarthy ]