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Damian Clarke Damian Clarke
Album: Something To Say
Label: VoxPop
Tracks: 14

Damian's probably best known to readers for his long-time membership of pioneering folk-punk-rockers Pressgang, but even during that outfit's final touring days he was enjoying a fruitful solo career, and he's managed to release a series of captivating solo records that have deliberately concentrated on maintaining his profile as a self-styled modern minstrel. The third album in this series is an intimate affair that would seem to have as a main mission championing the cause of the hammered dulcimer, a sadly underappreciated instrument whose distinctive ringing timbre looms large in the accompaniment to Damian's original songs. In fact, without wishing to over-generalise, one might hear it as taking on the role usually filled by the guitar on yer conventional singer-songwriter album.

Something To Say is a strongly unified collection, a good proportion of which comprises Damian's autobiographical reflections on his life and career as a touring musician. Interestingly, a handful of the song texts are also to be found integrated into Damian's own paintings (viewable online). These songs are well served by their delivery - keenly observant and sparkling and refreshing in demeanour, with a parallel delicacy of tone and expression yet capable of a lyrical punch where the nature of the recollection demands. In addition to the autobiographical songs, there are really effective accounts of the traditional Blue Cockade and Roger Wilson's Payday, as well as a couple of well-realised instrumental melodies and a standout rendition of fellow-hammered-dulcimerist Maclaine Colston's chiming tune Widcombe Flight. The album's finale is the fittingly anthemic title song, carried along on a tide of hurdy gurdy and whistle and leaving you with an earworm of a chorus. While the virtually omnipresent glorious clangour of the hammered dulcimer dominates the soundscape, Damian also treats us to a smattering of hurdy gurdy, Celtic harp, guitar and keyboard, while former Pressgang conspirator George Whitfield adds accordion and/or whistle to a handful of tracks. Pressgang bassist Cliff Eastabrook plays on a couple of tracks and is also responsible for the production of the album.

It's all most stylish, and as confident and persuasive advocate for the hammered dulcimer as you're likely to encounter. Pity that the arty backdrop for the package renders the vast majority of the lyrics nigh unreadable.

David Kidman