I’ve reviewed Damien Barber’s work with the Demon Barbers previously for Bright Young Folk and his latest project is a CD with Mike Wilson of the Wilson Family. As may be guessed from the title, ’Under The Influence’ pulls together a set of traditional songs, along with references in the sleeve notes to the particular versions, that have influenced the two men. It’s a list that includes the likes of Peter Bellamy, Dick Gaughan and Ewan MacColl.
The album opens slowly with the Irish rebel lament to Napoleon, ’Green Linnet’, before picking up with another Napoleonic song, ’On Board a ’98’, the first of several sea shanties on the CD. Indeed the naval songs are probably the highlights of the album, ’Shiny O’ in particular challenges you to try not to singalong, and then there are excellent versions of both ’On Board of A Man Of War’ and ’Andrew Rose’.
That said, the other sea song ’Jim Jones’ showpieces one of the weaknesses of the album. The only accompaniment throughout the CD is Damien on guitar and/or accordion. This works well most of the time as Mike Wilson’s singing is strong (though in places - eg ’Down The Moor’ - the accompaniment can go from slow to drone.... or maybe slow accordion just isn’t my thing).
However, every now and then - particularly on a track like Jim Jones where Damien sings solo - I can’t help feeling that Damien is pushing the range of his voice, as it starts to get reedy. Maybe this is just personal taste but the result is that while it is enjoyable enough, I find myself inevitably drawing comparisons with Mawkin:Causley’s superior cover of the same song (’Botany Bay’).
That quibble aside, ’Under The Influence’ is a highly enjoyable album, with the pick of the tracks interspersed between the shanties, being probably the two Ewan MacColl-penned tracks, the deathbed song “The Joy of Living” and “ My Old Man”, both of which are spot on.Craig
Released by Damien Barber on 23 March 2009.
1. Green Linnet
2. On Board a ’98’
3. Joy of Living
4. Shiny O
5. My Old Man
6. Jim Jones
7. Down the Moor
8. On Board a Man of War
9. Andrew Rose
10. Fable from Aigge
11. Now Westlin Winds