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Paul HandysidePaul Handyside
Album: Tide, Timber & Grain
Label: Malady
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.paulhandyside.com

The third solo album from the one time Hurrah! frontman sees something of stylistic swerve to deliver a far folkier and more acoustic sound than its predecessors Future's Dream and Wayward Son. On release, both of those loomed large in my albums of the year list, and this is going to make it three in a row.

Again working with producer Rob Tickell, who contributes, among other things, weissenborn, banjo and lap steel, but with Dave Porthouse swapping drums for double bass and melodeon,it opens with one of a surfeit of highlights in 'Flowers Won't Bloom', a melancholic, slow swaying, steel scored song of a relationship come to the end of its course as he sings "The ground is all broken and dry, the things we planted are waiting to die."

Introduced by Tickell's dobro, the simple, delicate 'Fond Farewell' maintains the downbeat mood with a song of loss and death that conjures the feel of a traditional Scottish ballad, though, while "you had put a knife through me and left me where I fell", there remains hope for reconciliation when paths may cross "in heaven or in hell." There's more partings of the ways to be found in 'Let Me Down Easy', another number of a Scottish ballad mien, building from acoustic picking to more full-blooded resonator flavoured sound, and the wistful sailor preparing for sea 'Should I Leave Your Side', a nautical folk song I could easily hear Martin Carthy singing.

The same's true of the melodeon accompanied 'A Whaler's Lament', a stupendous number that echoes the previous album's shanties as, Northern accent prominent, Handyside sings in the voice of a nineteenth century sailor in a narrative arc that runs from whaling ship to the mines and back to sea, ironically now finding himself the quarry, serving in the merchant navy during WWI "in fear of cold hearted submariner men". Again evocative of vintage The Men They Couldn't Hang, it deserves a nod in the Best Original Track category at the next Radio 2 awards.

Another terrific narrative comes with the melodeon and fiddle backed 'Woodcutter's Son', a heartbreaking song of longing and loss from when the title comes, which, opening on a capella notes, tells of a woman's lament for a lover who takes off for the big city, not to return for seven years, bringing with him his son.

Elsewhere you'll find the lilting sway of the end of days judgement themed 'All Will Be Revealed', the unadulterated lullabying tenderness of how 'True Love' survives all adversities, the search for salvation in dark times that informs the acoustic strum and chiming electric guitar of 'Desperate Days' and, bringing things to a close, the soft , whispering caress of 'Goodnight Lover' where, to just voice and acoustic guitar, bidding sweet dreams to a lover now in another's arms, he calls to mind the muted desolate balladry of Roy Orbison. Outstanding.

Mike Davies