Eric Bogle,
Singing the Spirit Home
(Greentrax, 2005)

If you like good music, you will love this. In a box set of five CDs, you can experience the genius of Eric Bogle. Don't know him? Think "Green Fields of France," "Leaving Nancy," "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and a load of others. This is the man who gave the world these wonderful songs to make us think and feel.

Originally from Peebles, Scotland, but now resident in Australia (when not touring the world), this former accountant not only writes songs to perfection, he performs them as well. One unusual accolade -- or not -- for Bogle is that so many of his compositions are genuinely mistaken for traditional songs. Such is his talent to write.

For instance the song he wrote as "No Man's Land" has been recorded and become a major hit many times over, both as "Green Fields of France" and "Arthur McBride," taking a title from a line of the original. I remember seeing him live, when he recounted that even British Prime Minister Tony Blair referred to him as a dead Scottish poet when referring to this song as his favourite anti-war poem.

The poetic title is not far off the mark, because Bogle is a true wordsmith whose output would be well placed on any literature syllabus. Ranging from the profound thoughts against war to cats killed by trucks via personal emigration songs, he seldom puts a word wrong.

The joy of Eric Bogle songs is the multi-layered content. His "Leaving Nancy" is often mistaken for a romantic love song. In fact it was written about his mother but listen closely to the lyrics and you get one of the best descriptions of the trauma of emigration. Likewise his tribute to Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers on "Safe in the Harbour" doubles as a piece of philosophy on how we choose to live our lives.

But he is not always profound and deep. His song "Do You Know Any Dylan" is a live track of mischievous humour and mimicry, and at the same time it can say a lot about the folk scene. On "Silly Slang Song" he again uses humour to remind us of how our use of words has changed.

In this collection you get 60 songs, and although I am an avid fan I found a very high percentage of songs that I had not heard before. Even some of the familiar songs have slightly different arrangements or backing and seem like new songs. In particular I loved John Munro's arrangement of "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda."

The strength of this writer is that he is not afraid to write about his own life and regrets. Nowhere is this more powerful than on "Scraps of Paper," where he bares his soul on the loss of his father and the missed opportunities we all experience in our lives. He probably shows the truth of the adage that if you write locally or personally you will touch an international feeling.

This is a limited-edition set and on the inserts of the individual CDs you will get not only the background to the songs but a potted biography of Eric Bogle. He says this is not a "best of" collection and as he continues to write good music I hope we can look forward to many more great albums.

This box is one of the greatest treasures to come on the market in years. It will delight Bogle fans. It is a wonderful introduction to a folk music genius. It will give anyone who loves words, music, sentiment or social conscience hours of pleasure.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 27 August 2005

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