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Phil Hare Phil Hare
Album: A Stranger I Came
Label: March Hare
Tracks: 13

Known to many of you/us as one of the top fingerpicking guitarists in the folk and blues scene, Phil Hare may have passed under that radar for many others. Hence album number seven arrives with little fanfare yet those same fingers crossed that it may be the one to widen the appeal and enhance the reputation he's earned as a live performer.

Following a similarly diverse template to 2015's 'Twilight Tone' - proof of the claim that "you can't put Phil Hare in a box." Made up of solo guitar recorded pretty much in single takes, Phil's taken the radical step of overdubbing banjo and dobro on a couple of tracks which adds something to the general palette. Lyrically, there's a focus, as there tends to be these days and as there has been in the history of folk music, on topical issues; although the sixties was more about cruise missiles and war rather than Brexit, disability and single sex marriage. However, as Led Zep almost put it once, the passion remains the same. A craft honed to perfection with plenty of ammunition and practice during the Thatcher years.

So the sort of complex chord arrangements not often found in folk and the blues feel guides the way, yet there's plenty of contemporary nods; not quite getting down with the kids, but hip-hop and pop influences are promised alongside fretboard tapping and jazzy cadences. Just one man and (mainly) his guitar, the songs come cased in a generally laid back groove, one that you'd associate with one of the elements of the John Martyn approach, which sadly runs the risk of sapping attention. A sudden burst of the much maligned banjo actually comes as a relief in 'I've Got My Country Back' - either that or I simply need to play the album louder. Perhaps it's the combination of the general pessimistic nature of the lyrics reflected in their low key musical accompaniment that while being the key theme of the album, is one that struggles to shift into a higher gear. Shame as the ingredients are all there but sometimes, you just need that magic touch.

Mike Ainscoe