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Greg Russell - Inclined to be Red (Fellside Records)
A hugely enjoyable collection from Greg Russell, who many of you may know from his outings with playing partner Ciaran Algar, collaborators, The Transports and the Shake The Chains Project. Starting with a track from the latter, telling of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the UK's first female doctor and later also a mayor, the album progresses through 12 tracks, a seamless mixture of self-penned numbers and a well chosen selection from a wide range of sources, both traditional and contemporary.
The dominant feature of the album is Greg's voice, which, after casting around, my listening companion described as organic and grainy and that will do for me. Beautifully rich in a manner that belies his relatively tender years, with degrees of energy and passion, character and nuance that made us wonder just how he will sound with a few more years under his belt and how much we look forward to finding out. In fact, it was only on the second listen that we devoted any focus to the musical accompaniment. Excellent though it is, once attention has been directed, it is at once restrained and complementary, allowing the voice, the words and the character of the songs breathe and resonate. This is noteworthy given the range of instrumental prowess available within Greg's cohort, that the line-up and could be described as almost sparse, with help coming in the not inconsiderable forms of Archie Churchill Moss on Melodeon and Blackbeard's Tea Party's Tim Yates on double bass – a man also not unused to breathing fresh life into old songs. The decision to exercise restraint in this way can be seen as either a mark of confidence in the songs or a simple mastery of the form and either way it matters not.
Whilst INCLINED TO BE RED suggests a direction of political leaning and it is true that a concern for his fellow man (and woman) permeates the songs. Thematically the album spans the political, the personal and the philosophical and like the instrumentation, it is subtle rather than in your face, whatever the subject matter, be it The Tolpuddle Martyrs in his stirring version of The Road To Dorchester or the fate of the planet in Greg's own Race To Burn. Similarly, tales and thoughts of life on the road inhabit songs that invite listening and consideration rather than would either predictable tales of lonesome misery or overblown debauchery.
The title of the album does, however turn up in one of the more personally focussed songs, telling stories of individuals, such as Crooked Jack, the a cappella Willy-Ole Lad (both songs of men burdened and constrained by their circumstances, as the political is never too far away). the reference comes in the American import Joe Bowers, where the central character is disappointed to find out that the woman he loves has left him for another and borne a child whose hair colour is the subject of the last line of the song (which has been altered from the original by Greg for just that purpose). I shall leave you to work that one out for yourselves.
The album sleeve notes credit the sources of the non-original songs and make interesting reading in that context, as does his observation that he has been inspired by an encounter at a folk club in which he was informed that politics has no place in music. However, it is his revelation that his career in music has led to his giving up on his dreams of playing professional football, that allows me to suggest that, with Inclined to Be Red, Greg really is playing in the Premier League!!
Certainly one of my albums of the year and there’s still time to make it one of yours!