Anna Ryder,
Pockets on Fire
(Wormwood Records, 1998)

When Fairport Convention invites an up-and-coming singer-songwriter to open its Cropedy Festival, you can rest assured that she will be someone to remember. That assumption holds true for 1998's opener, Anna Ryder. If you missed that Fest and can't make it in 1999 either, when Ryder again will grace the stage, obtain her February 1999 release, Pockets on Fire, on Fairport's own Wormwood label.

The Fairport influence shows on Ryder's third release (first with major distribution). Band members Dave Pegg, Gary Conway, Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders contribute to several songs while Ryder plays piano, keyboards, accordion and French horn. Pegg also serves as co-producer along with Ryder and Mark Tucker.

"Tried and Tested," the disc's opening track, sets the tone quite readily, however, and makes it clear that while Ryder may receive help from Fairport, she is a performer who can lure in an audience on her own. Ryder's description of herself as a "secondhand woman wearing secondhand clothes ... working a second-rate job in a third-rate place," feeling as if she's playing the "same old songs," and loving a "secondhand man," while admitting that "the love we have is first hand," rings a bell for those who indeed have been "tried and tested" over the years.

Her songs may not be the latest trend, the "flavor of the month," so to speak, but she takes older, universal (indeed, tried and tested) concepts and treats them to her own unique and personal perspective. "Sliding into a Dream," featuring Ric Sanders' distinctive fiddle, draws the listener away from mundane problems long enough to dream with Ryder and realize that, as humans, we all are linked. "Freedom Hymn" admits that although she is tired, worn, and lost, freedom from that can be hers.

Ryder's sense of humor also is present and sometimes is wicked fun. She threatens to set fire to a man's pockets in the title track, but her intentions are not entirely malicious. His pockets contain so much weight from his past that he cannot belong to anyone. "Heaps of Metal," a jazzy, swing piece about fixing her old car once again, does not seem at all mundane; Ryder's amusing take on car repairs seems both philosophical and whimsical.

These songs are deceptively simple. And don't let the charming, childlike self-drawn caricatures on the CD cover and within the booklet fool you either. Listen closely and Ryder's music will draw you in to see its complexity. As she says in "Late Nights," while describing a group of friends having so much fun in one another's company that they don't want to leave the pub: "It seems like we want to be here all the time / And it seems like our homes are a million miles from this place."

You may feel that way at the end of Pockets on Fire. I know I did.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]