Unbelievably, it was just over half a century ago that Wizz Jones (who even at that point already something of a legend) gave Ralph McTell a golden opportunity when he brought him down to Cornwall, and the pair were to enjoy halcyon days celebrating their shared musical roots by busking beatnik-style around the region and gigging at the now-legendary Folk Cottage. In summer 2016, by way of celebration of this long-term musical friendship, Ralph brought things full circle by inviting Wizz back to Cornwall to record their first album together. They had such a great time, and the resulting CD, About Time, was such a resounding success, that they decided to go back into the studio this year and make another album together "before it's too late"! Hence, over several weeks in the spring and early summer of this year, they recorded the tracks which are hereby now released as About Time Too. It's just like a simple, straightforward continuation of its predecessor, another gloriously relaxed affair containing some of the most assured, natural and convivial music-making you're ever likely to hear, courtesy of two consummate professionals entirely comfortable with, and fully complementing, their individual talents. Ralph and Wizz are easy in each other's company, and their respect for each other's skill is as obvious as the inspiration they gain and trade off from each other's expertise and musicianship.
From every obvious angle, About Time Too is a natural and predictable sequel to About Time, but not in any remotely negative sense. The track-list again cherrypicks from Ralph and Wizz's favourite songs by other writers, either learned at the beginning of their respective careers as buskers or picked up on their respective musical journeys. The criterion (according to Wizz) being that "the songs (we) selected only made it onto the album if they have great melodies, interesting lyrics or room for an unusual arrangement". So it's a broadly similar mix of styles and idioms to the 2016 set, with songs by Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rodgers sitting side by side with chestnuts (a jaunty Riptide, and a sincere, nicely restrained Ghost Riders In The Sky - which was written by Stan Jones, who, we learn from the disc's liner note, was a very distant relative of Wizz's … Blues-wise, there's a tender example of the art of Robert Johnson (When You've Got A Good Friend) and the perennial jugband standard Stealin'.
Ralph and Wizz's treatment of Paul Siebel's Louise (fuelled by Dave Burland's cover) is a model of lyrical panache, as is their take on Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, and they have fun with the early Incredible String Band (Mike Heron) track How Happy I Am (which the liner-note sort of implies was unapologetically derived from an original Rev. Gary Davis song). The Alan Tunbridge song chosen for this session is the lovely Shall I Wake You From Your Sleep? (surely it's "about time" for an Alan Tunbridge collection?). Ralph and Wizz move into the final stretch with the much-requested Pete Atkin/Clive James number Touch Has A Memory (quintessential Wizz repertoire, this!), and they end proceedings with a brilliant and completely fitting choice from the pen of Steve Ashley - the succinct, beautifully crafted end-of-gig closer Best Wishes, with its most quietly air-punching of sentiments, here done as an affable country-folk ramble. Pure magic.
Once again, it really does feel as though it was as much a delight for the guys to cut the tracks as it is for the fly-on-the-studio-wall listener to experience the end-product. It feels as though they'll be at the top of their game forever, so I'd love to think there'll be a second sequel (About Thrice Time, anyone?) before it really is too late. Pretty please!
|Stealers Wheel: The A&M Years||Michael Chapman & Ehud Banai: EB=MC2|
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