Fresh from his namecheck on Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend telethon on BBC4, in which Keef described seeing him play in the 60s, the indefatigable Wizz Jones returns with a particuarly poignant release. Joint Control (Riverboat) captures not only Jones’ friendship with fellow acoustic guitar maestro John Renbourn, but the latter’s final recordings, before his death in March last year. The warmth of their relationship permeates live and studio performances like central heating, in a set list mostly drawn from their frequent concerts together over the previous three years. Contemporaries such as Dylan and Renbourn’s other great cohort, Bert Jansch, are among those covered. The title of Jones’ new instrumental for the set, Balham Moon, typifies the spirit and humour on display.
That segues nicely into Pentangle’s Finale (Topic), dedicated to their since-departed former members Jansch and Renbourn and recorded in 2008 at the Royal Festival Hall. It was the start of their first British tour since 1973, exactly 40 years since Sweet Child, the live epic of the group’s first incarnation, took place there. The new performance was quite an epic of its own, with 21 songs across two CDs. As the two guitarists reunite with Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox for spirited versions of such originals as Let No Man Steal Your Thyme and Cruel Sister, the decades roll away.
A month full of reunions and revivals also benefits from the reappearance of another folk giant and song curator, Shirley Collins. She rejoins our throng a mere 38 years since her last new album with Lodestar, on no less of a hip hangout than the Domino label. At 81, her voice (after battling dysphonia) is attractively weathered, on admirably suitable songs of the ages. Recorded at Shirley’s home in Lewes, they span some 400 years, with English, American and Cajun roots. They’re gripping from the first notes of the remarkable, episodic opener, Awake Awake – The Split Ash Tree – May Carol – Southover.
Two newer names amid such folk royalty are Adam Torres and littlebow, who nevertheless both arrive armed with years of experience. Torres, newly signed to Fat Possum, offers Pearls To Swine, which comes 10 years after his Nostra Nova debut, since which he lived plenty of life away from music. The beautifully measured guitar textures and hypnotic, porcelain vocals of his new release have won comparisons from Jeff Buckley to Judee Sill.
The chiefly instrumental littlebow’s Three (Rural Colours) sees Katie English and Keiron Phelan augmented on this third set by Brona McVittie. The expansion adds even more texture, and some vocals, to an arsenal including harps, clarinets and flutes; the effect, on evocatively-titled pieces such as The Damned Erudition of Damian O’Hara, is both cerebral and uplifting.
Reviews Column 64: Progressive Folk