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Chris Leslie Chris Leslie
Album: Turquoise Tales
Label: Paws Music
Tracks: 12

I can hardly credit it being close on three years since I reviewed Origins, a superlative solo album by Fairport Convention's ultra-skilled multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie. And now I'm pleased to welcome its successor Turquoise Tales, which like Origins contains a magnificent spread of material that takes in nifty virtuoso instrumentals and original songs, alongside a sprinkling of well-considered arrangements of traditional pieces. Textures are light and airy, and even though Chris employs a sensible amount of judicious overdubbing, the soundscape is never remotely cluttered. His abject mastery of all manner of fiddle, mando, guitar and whistle sounds is legendary, while he's also an excellent singer and an extremely gifted songwriter, and all of these strands naturally cohabit in this musical offering. For no matter how much you might (reasonably?) expect to have "heard it all before", Chris invariably finds a way of ringing the changes, coming up with ever-more-inventive juxtapositions, nuances, tonal delights and instrumental dexterity, so that each playthrough yields more subtleties in his fleet-fingered playing and scintillating arrangements. Faultlessness is a virtue here, not a hollow triumph of technique over musicality. And hearing is the only way to be believing my assessment.

The fairly equal-handed ratio of vocal to instrumental tracks on Turquoise Tales is blurred by no fewer than four selections which combine both modes - the opening track pairs brand new song The Gibson Girl with the trusty session tune Midnight On The Water, and Handsome Molly is done as a rollicking old-timey romp that gives way to a glorious cajun reel (over way too soon!), while Chris's long-standing Fairport repertoire favourite I Wandered By A Brookside, here given a sparkling new reading, is capped by his own tune The Kissing Gate. There's a further pair of songs from the Fairport canon (I'm Already There and The Fossil Hunter) which Chris revisits here, to richly persuasive effect. Chris also treats us to premières of two more new songs - the deeply pensive Another Me, where a fiddler's thoughts are driven - and trapped - by a nagging ostinato riff, and the altogether lighter Devil's Work (a reflection on the dubious joys of DIY) which rather cheekily consorts with the medieval dance La Rotta. Leonard Cohen's Song Of Bernadette may seem an unlikely choice of cover, but Chris turns in a stunning, versatile vocal performance. And a sublime fiddle-singing, drone-backed version of Swans On The Lake (you'll know it under a different title) closes the disc in style. The purely instrumental tracks range from the exotic pan-pipe-evocative title track to a delectable set of Breton tunes and a joy-filled set of hornpipes and polkas (Talking Tunes).

So it goes without saying that this is another lovingly-sequenced release of impeccable artistic quality from Chris, one which absolutely deserves a place on your ever-expanding Fairport-and-associates shelves.

David Kidman