Phil HarePhil Hare
Album: The Twilight Tone
Label: March Hare
Tracks: 16

Phil's one of those highly talented artists who seem to've been around for years, quietly and unassumingly ploughing his own furrow yet making no great mark on the landscape, doing what he does exceedingly well and always satisfying the listener both on record and in the live-gig environment. This disc, the latest in an illustrious if undersold series, gives us the best of both worlds, in that it's a deliberately no-frills, no-overdubs, plain vox-and-acoustic-guitar foray given an intimate and knowing live-in-the-home-studio setting by co-producer and engineer Jon Harvison. The comfortingly late-night ambience of the recording gives a clue to Phil's recommendation for the optimum time for home listening…

Phil's a particularly fine guitarist, who invariably proves himself a very skilled exponent of a healthy variety of acoustic modes. This aspect of Phil's craft comes to the fore most on two specific styles; the first is on material infused with the spirit of the blues, for which he has a special empathy, whereas the second is material from the Irish tradition or possessing something of the aura of Celtic twilight. Phil's a true master of the art of delicate fingerpicking, with his own individual style that takes an intelligent and eloquent approach to the presentation of melodic line - as you can hear straightaway par-excellence on his filigree account of She Moved Through The Fair, his own idiomatic composition Planxty Byrne, and his elegantly poised, almost folk-baroque treatment of Si Bheag Si Mhor (here appended to a deft, sprightly rendition of Nic Jones's arrangement of Planxty Davis). The disc's title piece, which leads into a rendition of the traditional tune Red-Headed Boy, conveniently gives you something of both styles for the price of one three-minute track. Friends I Left Behind exhibits an element of gentle nostalgia for the Ralph McTell troubadour era; and in contrast, Horace Silver's cheeky rag The Preacher comes off deliciously well too. I'm not entirely convinced, though, by Phil's (admittedly expert) adaptation of Keane's Somewhere Only We Knew, which he contrives to follow on from the traditional air South Wind.

The disc's menu mixes tunes and songs in roughly equal proportion, although the songs (all but two are Phil Hare originals) tend perhaps to enjoy more mixed fortunes. It's contemporary chansons like The Day Thatcher Passed Away, the tradition-inspired Catherine Conway, and reflective numbers like Lines In The Sand and The Alchemist, that arguably suit Phil's musical personality best, benefitting from his honest, gruff timbre and the direct communicative power of his voice. Not all of the more obvious political commentaries quite come off, despite their generally laudable sentiments; but having said that, Phil scores a bullseye with Benefit Street, which cannily fits his caustic lyric to the tune of Here's The Tender Coming, and his slow-drag setting of Auden's poem Funeral Blues is an inspired response to the poet's bleak vision. Phil also turns in an ingenious adaptation of Pat Wilson's original Housework Shanty, here renamed Corporate Shanty, which shifts the focus away from the ladies' domestic duties and onto the dubious practices of the marketing executives of the beleaguered Tescos.

Given its brilliant musicianship and savvily accessible content, The Twilight Tone might be considered an almost supernaturally recommendable purchase, which (like its near-role-model) may well have the makings of a future cult classic.

David Kidman