Ralph McTell & Wizz Jones – About Time Too
Leola – 24 November 2017
You could reasonably say that Ralph and Wizz albums are like buses, you wait fifty years for one and then two turn up almost at once. About Time Too is indeed an extension of last year’s About Time album and very much cut from the same cloth, in that it is a set built of predominantly American traditional songs and covers performed to please rather than challenge, and like that record, this one is an unpretentious joy to listen to across fourteen tracks and forty-six minutes.
The Woody Guthrie penned ‘Philadelphia Lawyer’ kicks off the set, with a lovely warm harmonica line introducing the romantic good time narrative. This version was taken from a Guthrie duet with Cisco Houston, found on an old Folkways record, so the generous and friendly voices of our two stalwarts compliment the tale perfectly. It also neatly spring-boards us further back into the world of Jimmie Rodgers, with Jones taking the lead on ‘Any Old Time’, a beautifully gentle and wistful little song with the pair’s guitars dutifully swinging and allowing Wizz’s slightly burred vocal to effectively evoke the image of the long-waiting love from the past.
There is nothing too perfect or polished about the playing or singing on this album, and it is one of its key strengths. The little picked guitar intro to the traditional ‘Stealin” has a bit of fret buzz and the odd muted note; the vocals on Hank Williams’ ‘I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry’ are ever so slightly off in places, which again lends authenticity to the lyric. All nonsense egos have been left elsewhere and these two seem to be playing very much for fun. That said, things get serious on Stan Jones’ ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, one of the oldest songs in McTell’s memory. The playing here is slightly darker, with hammer-ons and pull-offs adding texture and a strong melody pulling the song along. Ralph’s deeper narrative voice is very much at the fore on this one, but Wizz’s slightly lighter assist sitting just back and timed a fraction behind the lead lends this one a slightly eerie feel. It’s a wonderful song that leads onto the splendidly upbeat melancholy of ‘Riptide’, a slide-guitar driven little swagger of a song that’s full of fun.
It’s a perfect balance of light and shade that runs through the whole set, with songs like ‘Ghost Riders’ and Alan Tunbridge’s ‘Shall I wake You from Your Sleep’ providing serious thumb-led picking and mixing well with tunes like The Incredible String Band’s ‘How Happy I am’ (‘and I won’t feel sad ’til the whiskey’s gone’), with its chirpy major-chord strumming and care-fee vocals. There is more weight behind Robert Johnson’s ‘When You’ve Got a Good Friend’, with McTell going solo on vocals and pulling off the blues licks that accompany a slightly world-weary but affectionate narrator, but it’s a wonderful penultimate song that dovetails with Steve Ashley’s ‘Best Wishes’ nicely. With its ‘long may the music keep you underneath its spell / long may you play it live and always play it well’ lyric, it is a shoe-in for the final track and a lesson taught soundly by these two veterans of the scene. Lovely stuff.
About Time Too is out now. Order via Amazon