25 January 2007

Peacetime - Eddi Reader

I have to confess a little disappointment when I got my hands on a copy of Eddi's 9th album Peacetime (released 29th Jan): Only a fool doesn't judge a album by its cover and, call me old-fashioned if you like, but doesn't a new album deserve some new artwork? Instead, Peacetime's cover photo is a retread of the cover of St Clare's Night Out .

Did Rough Trade run out of money? Doesn't Eddi know even one person with a digital camera and a copy of photoshop? :-)

Its been nearly four long years since Eddi recorded the Songs of Robert Burns, and six since she recorded an album of original songs - the ineffable, incomparable Simple Soul.

A confession: for every single one of those four long years I've listened to Simple Soul, Angels & Electricity and Eddi Reader more than I've listened to Robbie Burns, And for all that time I have hung on to the hope that Eddi's venture into traditional folk would prove a detour, and that her next album would resume the forward march of her partnership with Boo.

It doesn't, quite, but still - a new Eddi album is not to be sneezed at, and I was as excited as small child on Christmas Day last week when I slipped the disc into the player and myself into something more comfortable and settled down, eschewing the sleeve notes, to wallow in 14 whole, brand new helpings of Eddi's wonderful, rich crystal clear voice.

It's very folksy: 7 of the 14 songs are listed as 'traditional', no fewer than three of them are more Burns, and many of the rest have a traditional folksy feel to them - The Afton for instance sounds positively 19th century, and it's a surprise to look it up and find out it's new.

It's probably too obvious to say: but the best of the trad-folk songs are the ones that are kept simple - Baron's Heir + Sadenia's Air is a fine beginning, with Eddi's voice soaring over a simple guitar in the opening sections, and her Scottish accent coming through delightfully clear, two songs later it would take hard heart not to smile at Mary and The Soldier, and Leezie Lindsay is catchy enough. But it has to be said there are also some duds: Aye Waulkin-O, and Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon seem to me simply bland, and even Eddi the alchemist cannot turn that lead entirely into gold.

Shepherd's Song stands out. It's an odd one and it has had some positive fan attention
. It's certainly unusual with it's brass-band opening section, as soon as I heard it, it seemed familiar, reminding me of something. No, not Bailero from Songs of the Auvergne by Canteloube: but Pink Floyd's Outside the Wall.

Am I giving the impression I don't like the album? That wouldn't be fair. I couldn't dislike anything by Eddi and, besides, WMP tells me I've played it 13 times already so it can't be that bad. It isn't - and there's an important redeeming feature: three diamonds in the coal, the three unmistakable songs by Boo Hewerdine.

Instantly recognisable these songs - to me - carry the album. The first one we hear is track two Muddy Water, a 'brief encounter' says Eddi in the sleevenotes, a brief illicit encounter say I: 'Did not do what I should / I nearly lost it good / but the CCTV camera never caught us' Boo's sparse lyrics perfectly capture a time, a place an emotion. Listening in the bath last week, knowing only that there were three Boo songs there somewhere it wasn't hard to pick them out when they came: Muddy Water, Safe as Houses and the eponymous Peacetime with their references to CCTV, to the London bombings breathe some current relevant meaning into an otherwise hard-to-fathom collection.

We've had Eddi Reader sings the songs of Robbie Burns. That was good, but I'm not sure this new album carries Eddi forward as it should. What would be wrong with Eddi Reader sings the Songs of Boo Hewerdine? Until that happy event Boo fans may find pleasure Rosalie Deighton's upcoming album which will feature five songs co-written with Boo (that's two more than Eddi's)

Oh dear, I feel I have been a bit rotten to Eddi. But rest assured she's still one of my all-time favourites, and I'm still going to Shepherd's Bush to see her next month. And I'm still hoping to hear Soul, Lucky Penny, Wolves, Simple Soul, Footsteps Fall and Sugar on the Pill.

- review of Boo Hewerdine gig in November

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