Hard Road to Prospect Hill has been quite long in gestation, unexpectedly long in fact, and very likely just as long (and as eagerly) awaited by this stalwart north-eastern singer-songwriter’s many admirers. Its fabulously well-stocked 69 minutes embrace a generous helping of new original songs which (musically speaking) embrace those distinctive Richard Grainger qualities we’ve come to know and admire – sturdy singing and stylish, accomplished self-accompaniment on a trusty guitar.
Richard’s lyrics continue to follow his personal muse, writing on familiar themes both maritime and land-based but always with typical pride in his native Teesside, and exhibiting a strong interest in, and concern for, matters of history and heritage. These qualities, together with his keen feel for traditional song form, enable him to deliver on one hand attractive and idiomatic “story songs” (retellings or imaginings of regional legends) and on the other compassionate moral commentaries on environmental issues or other affairs close to his heart. Some of these songs have been developing over the past few years in live performance, and hopefully these latest recorded versions will prove definitive, clothed as they are in simple but effective arrangements. These, while remaining centred around Richard’s fluid guitar traceries, are embellished by subtle and admirably unobtrusive instrumental enhancements courtesy of (primarily) Chris Parkinson (accordion, melodeon, harmonica), Helen Lancaster (fiddle, viola) and Rowena Morton (cello), with some characterful vocal support from worthy comrades Helen Pitt and Steve Dawes and excellent cameo contributions from Rebekah Findlay and Rick Bockner (on one track apiece).
For me, the cream of the high-quality crop of songs this time around are the majestic opener Girl On The Scarborough Shore; the canny pairing of vanishing-industry songs (the valedictory Iron And Steel and the bleak vision that is Hesleden); the eerie ballad Stepping Stones, the brilliantly infectious, rousing chorus-song-of-thanksgiving Good Earth, and the spirited seagoing Greenland Whale, but there’s not a weak song here. I feel duty-bound to remark that one or two of them may seem to go on a verse (or chorus) or two too long – although having said that, their argument or story needs full expression and is generally not conducive to being edited either!… The vast majority of the tracks here clock in at over five minutes, and, however appealing their lyrics or melodies be, they can outstay their welcome by repetition (as in the otherwise highly charming Flower Of Norton Hill). But that’s a minor point when set against the inventiveness and wide appeal of Richard’s writing.
By the way, in addition to the aforementioned new original songs, the disc contains lively revisits of two earlier Grainger successes. One’s the stirring Death Of Nelson (which originally appeared on his celebrated 1984 Fellside LP Herbs On The Heart, and is taken at a slightly faster pace these days, though losing nothing in urgency); whereas the other’s Richard’s hearty toast to the men of the railway industry, Diesel And Coal (the initial recording of which appeared on the special Full Head Of Steam album back in 2000). The disc’s remaining track is no filler either, being a fresh and well-considered interpretation of the traditional Bushes And Briars, which features a particularly graceful cello counterpoint to Richard’s guitar lines. The album’s production is a thoroughly commendable joint effort between Mr. Grainger and Oliver Knight, while the digipack is both attractive and well-presented, with the accompanying booklet containing full lyrics to the songs. Worth the wait? Most certainly.
Review by: David Kidman
Hard Road to Prospect Hill (Klondike KCD010) Out Now
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For details of Richard’s Tour Dates visit: www.richard-grainger.com