Terry Tufts,
The Better Fight
(Borealis, 2005)

I first saw Terry Tufts play at the Quarter Moon Coffee House in Bloomfield, Ontario, two decades ago. He was a fine guitar picker then and, if anything, he's improved his guitar style. His lyrics are thoughtful and more mature. He sings pretty well, too, a strong folksy tenor with some range.

Here on The Better Fight, his seventh album over those last two decades, this skilled musician presents himself as a committed environmental warrior and makes a strong statement for a green future. The title track appears to be his personal statement about living simply, getting off the grid and back to basics. He delivers it in a gentle, sincere and believeably nouveau-rustic way, showing the influence of a long line of Ottawa-area musicians, specifically Ian Tamblyn.

There is some variety: "Pursuant to My Nature" is a nice instrumental, showcasing his guitar. On both "Dirty Little War" and the anthemic title track, for instance, he hits the mark with some good hooks and melodies, keeping it simple and direct. On "Awake Ye Drowsie Sleeper," a traditional song, he handles it deftly, showing some vocal range and guitar virtuosity, and making clear he can do the Fairport-Pentangle thing pretty well. Sometimes he veers into jazz, and even dips into '70s soul. Tufts and his backing musicians show versatility and skill.

I can't say I am a huge fan of his lyric writing, though. He's won a number of songwriting competitions but, lyrically, he's a bit predictible and earnest, with sometimes a lack of concreteness. The commitment is surely there, but its surely well-trodden territory.

To his credit, Tufts does swing for the fences in "Embracing the Addiction" with serious socio-political commentary: "Every father destined to perpetuate this cruel charade / Every mother destined to give birth astride an open grave." Tough words. Unfortunately, that song as a whole is probably the biggest swing-and-a-miss on the whole CD -- overly ambitious, both musically and lyrically. Some of it simply misses the mark: "You used to stand back and observe the overview / It may be time we sat down and / analyzed the points misconstrued." Tufts fails to carry this track, but you've gotta give him points for trying.

Coming to the close of this CD, Tufts goes in yet another direction. After a side-trip to the Isley Brothers ("I Got Work to Do") he finishes up with some good ol'-fashioned Eastern Ontario jazz, featuring his talented accompanists: keyboard player Mark Ferguson, John Geggie on bass, Rob Graves on percussion and Ross Murray on drums on tunes such as the instrumental "Idyll."

Rob Graves has the full range of instruments and appears here to some advantage, but unfortunately, Tufts just doesn't use him enough, or mix him high enough. And some of the arrangements are simply bland (such as "That was You, This was Me"). Jesse Winchester also appears on "Black Velvet Elvis" but, again, his presence isn't remarkable.

This is a nicely produced disc, with some beautiful material and, yes, solid commitment to a good fight -- but as a reviewer I do have trouble recommending it wholeheartedly. Give Tufts credit, though, he is advancing in his craft, and I have a sense he comes closer than most to living his beliefs. Many of us can't come close to that.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
David Cox

23 January 2010

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