Johnny Coppin,
Keep the Flame
(Red Sky, 2004)

I am very picky when it comes to Christmas music. If there is one thing I dread at the end of each year, it is hearing the same handful of holiday songs played over and over again wherever you go in public. I swear that this year the stores started playing these tunes before Halloween! Fortunately, I have been introduced to a Cotswolds (U.K.) singer-songwriter who performs Celtic/folk music and has a beautiful voice. I normally wouldn't say that about a male singer, but when I listened to Keep the Flame for the first time I was caught off guard by Johnny's vocals, and that was the word that popped in my mind. This man can sing!

The title track starts off the CD. Johnny not only sings, but plays piano, keyboards, acoustic guitar and drums (but not all at once). This acoustic version of "Keep the Flame" begs the listener to ponder and contemplate life. While the melody is almost somber, the lyrics focus on the positive. As Johnny says in the promotional material, "Christmas is clearly a happy occasion but it can also be a reflective time and this CD remembers Gillian (Johnny's wife who died of cancer in 2001) and several absent friends -- hence the reminder to keep the flame burning."

Some of you might be familiar with the song "Get Me Through December." Alison Krauss (another singer with a beautiful voice) performed this tune several years back on the Natalie MacMaster CD In My Hands. This is a song about a person who wants the new year to come so they can start anew. The piano and violin enhance one's listening pleasure from what would already be enjoyed through Johnny's vocals.

I should mention that one unfortunate thing about this CD is that it is only an E.P. with seven tracks. The last track is the instrumental "Galician Carol." This Spanish carol invokes images of enjoying a Renaissance Yule. Guest musician Paul Burgess plays a lively recorder. Speaking of guest musicians, they include Burgess (recorder, violin), Mick Dolan (acoustic and electric guitars, percussion, tambourine, shaker, vocals), Geoff March (backing vocals) and Dik Cadbury (backing vocals).

I learned from the promotional material that Johnny was a member of the 1970s folk rock group Decameron. March and Cadbury were also members of that group. If you were a fan of Decameron, then I can't imagine you being disappointed with Johnny Coppin now. On the flip side, as I'm enjoying what I've heard so far, I am going to have to go find some re-issued copies of Decameron's albums to see if the music is just as good. I should expect so.

Those of you close to the Cotswolds (an area not far from London, but too far from Dallas, Texas, dang-it!) will be happy to note that Johnny Coppin has a series of concerts planned this month. You can check out the listing on his website. Interested new listeners might check the site out as well. For sound clips you will have to hit and look up Decameron to get an idea of what Johnny has to offer. However, whether you have heard of Johnny Coppin or not, I highly recommend Keep the Flame. This is a wonderful winter E.P., regardless which holiday celebrations you partake of (or not). The music and vocals are not to be missed if you enjoy Celtic and/or folk music.

by Wil Owen
17 December 2005

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