Pete ShirleyPete Shirley
Album: Sunset Katy And Other Stories
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 14

This release has already garnered lots of praise over the summer including positive words from such folk luminaries as Mike Harding and the Living Tradition magazine, so the early signs were very good!

The first thing that struck me was what a wonderfully archetypal folk voice Pete Shirley has. In parts, his tone very much reminded me of vintage Pete Coe along with that courtly delivery of Roy Bailey. With all due respect, these are both elder statesmen of the folk world now so I was expecting a much older man than Pete seems to be! Sometimes it can sound a little artificial or mannered when such a traditional voice appears, maybe a style choice over authenticity, but here it sounds timeless and real.

As a piece of work I think this album is beautifully recorded, nice and warm with the voice on top of the mix where it belongs, lovely separation between the instruments but still with a cohesive feel and a good, loud overall play back level without any obvious over compression or distortion problems.

Although ostensibly a solo artist accompanying himself on guitar or bouzouki, this recording is quite an ensemble venture with additional musicians adding piano, organ, violin, accordion, drums, harmonica and bass across the 14 tracks lending it quite a band feel.

Additionally, special mention to the lovely harmonies of Esther Brennan, who features heavily throughout the album and adds much depth and texture to the songs, particularly in the many rousing choruses.

Pete's song writing also has a strong traditional feel and he has a wonderful ear for a melody that makes the 11 original songs here seem immediately familiar, even on first listen. He covers themes in broads brush strokes I would say, rather than in specific detail and titles such as 'When Winter Rides In', 'Waiting For The Tide To Turn', 'All Down The Line' and 'A Roving I will Go' are suggestive of this.

Pete is also a very accomplished guitarist and the stand out tracks on this album for myself are those which feature his beautifully picked, melodic but riff like parts, such as on the fourth track 'Starlight And Angelglow'. Here it introduces the song and cycles round a couple of times before the fiddle of Ciaran Algar sweeps in majestically, very impressive stuff.

Other favourite tracks are 'The Moon And Barbed Wire Fence' which is a short, sweet instrumental that is essentially a lead in track to 'All Down The Line' with its own lovely, riffed intro which gives way after about 20 seconds to some glorious, full on drumming. Add some sweet electric guitar in the mix and the song has a right going over for the next 6 minutes. Epic work that almost has a Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler type feel to it, which can't be bad by anyone's standards!

As a collection this album stands together well and with many of the songs having very strong, almost anthemic choruses I can imagine these being very popular in Folk Clubs, particularly if the crowd is up for a bit of community singing!

Having already mentioned the lovely harmonies of Esther Brennan, it is fair to say that all the musicians here acquit themselves splendidly and it really does sound like a good time was had by all. In particular, Ciaran Algar on Fiddle is very impressive with his playing always serving the song beautifully and I was surprised how 'right' the piano felt in this folk context. Having this in the mix was something of a masterstroke!

I have only two slight reservations that really do not detract in any way from this recording, but are more general thoughts. Firstly, I think some of the songs are a little on the long side and whilst interest is maintained because of the quality of the playing and arrangements, I think live with Pete's solo voice and guitar they may drag a little. Secondly, in my view the three traditional song covers do not add or show anything that Pete has not ably demonstrated through his own original songs and performances on the CD. I can of course understand why they may be played in a live set but on an album of 14 tracks, whittling it down to 11 originals is unlikely to leave anyone feeling short changed.

Overall though, a thoroughly enjoyable album and as another reviewer has already noted, this is hopefully going to get Pete Shirley a full gig diary in Folk Clubs up and down the country and certainly result in him shifting a few CD's along the way!

Paul Jackson

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