Tightrope is the new CD from The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s powerhouse songwriting partnership of Paul Simmonds and Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers, but it doesn’t just concentrate on their own compositions, for it also includes four covers, being their personal takes on songs they clearly much admire and from which (and/or their writers) they’ve drawn inspiration. Basically, Tightrope brings together under one roof new versions and rare recordings of songs that were originally written either for The Men They Couldn’t Hang, or for the post-TMTCH venture Liberty Cage, or for other solo projects.
The disc kicks off in style with a pair of songs reworked from TMTCH’s 2008 offering Devil On The Wind (the standard album and the complementary EP respectively). It leads with one of the album’s standout tracks, Mrs. Avery, described as “an imagined sequel to the famous Dr Hook song Sylvia’s Mother”, and sporting added vocals from Paul and Geoff Price’s caressing pedal steel to further embellish Bobby Valentino’s memorably florid violin lines. Tyburn Tree, which follows, was originally an EP exclusive, and deserves not to languish in collector’s oblivion, for it proves a suitably bitter contemporary commentary on the year’s banking crash. The lilt of Tyburn Tree provides a natural tempo-continuation for Phil’s keenly felt cover of Woody Guthrie’s Deportees, freshly recorded and featuring Bobby’s lyrical violin alongside Paul’s mandolin. A very fine rendition of Springsteen’s Factory, itself a crucial influence on Paul, is here reprised from the TMTCH covers album Al Green Was My Valet, and an equally fine – if bleak – account of Dylan’s North Country Blues finds Paul accompanied again by Bobby.
Tightrope’s title song comes in the form of a brand new recording of the track from the 2006 Swill & The Swaggerband project Elvis Lives Here, while the rousing Stag Night, taken from a set of seven songs recorded in Brighton in 1992 for an abortive themed album, has its origins in an early incarnation of Liberty Cage. A pair of songs culled from Paul’s 2007 Rising Road album (Brixton Hill and My Side Of The Bed) make an appearance here, with the latter having been completely re-recorded this year; between these is sandwiched the simple, tender Slip Away Gently. 1999’s Baby Fishlips album (Paul and Phil’s earlier duo offering) is represented by the underrated track Leaving In The Morning. Finally, the disc closes with a new recording of the Stan Rogers classic Barratt’s Privateers (the one with the lusty A-level chorus, often performed live by Phil over the past couple of decades), and here the vocal choir is swelled increasingly confidently by Paul and Bobby above a keyboard drone.
If nothing else, Tightrope provides a salutary reminder of the combined talents of Messrs. Odgers and Simmonds; it’s certainly a persuasive collection.
Review by: David Kidman
Out Now on Vinyl Star Records
Order it via Four Dogs Music
Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers Announces Pledge Only Double Album
In related news Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers is releasing a double CD album of at least 18 demo songs which will only ever be available to pledgers. You can find out more and hear some tracks featuring the likes of Eliza Carthy here: www.pledgemusic.com/projects/swill
Keep up with The Men They Couldn’t Hang here: www.tmtch.net