Johnny Coppin,
The Winding Stair
(Red Sky, 2005)

Last year I reviewed the Christmas EP Keep the Flame, by Johnny Coppin. In that review I noted that I thought Johnny had a fantastic voice. I was eager to hear more of his music. I got that chance when I received his latest CD, The Winding Stair. In short, this Celtic CD quickly shot up to the top of my CD rotation.

The Winding Stair contains 13 tracks. The songs are a collection of original work as well as a few of his favorites from England, Ireland, Scotland and the U.S.A. In many cases, Johnny has taken the words of others and put them to his own music. Besides his touching vocals, Johnny plays both acoustic guitar and piano.

The song that first grabbed my attention was "The Sun's Coming Over the Hill." The singer tells of a lover who died in a one-car accident while intoxicated. In grief, the singer tries the same scenario, but fails. The stanzas of this song are rather depressing, defeatist almost. But then in the chorus, the singer mentions the sun coming over the hill. As Johnny describes in the liner notes, there is a "hint of optimism." The tug, back and forth, from sad to hopeful and back, is quite powerful. The carefully placed recorder helps guide one's emotions.

Another song that I truly enjoy is "Susanna Martin." I was captivated by this track; the lyrics for this piece were taken from actual transcripts of the 1692 Salem, Mass., witch trials. Here is a woman wrongly accused of witchcraft and a pact with the devil. The proof: flowers that die when she passes, an evil yellow bird that flew over her head, afflicted people, among other things. All the way to the gallows, she scorns her accusers. Isn't that further proof of her guilt? The violin definitely carries this rendition.

Listeners cannot fail but take note of the piano led "The Fire Kindled." Johnny takes a 1917 poem written by Ivor Gurney in France during the Great War. War is never pretty. However, even if the words don't make an impact on you, surely the melody will. The piano is accompanied by a recorder at times. This would have been a poignant piece even as an instrumental.

A half-dozen musicians aided Johnny in the creation of The Winding Stair, including Mike Silver (acoustic guitar, vocals), Paul Burgess (violin, recorders), Phil Beer (violin), Mick Dolan (acoustic guitar), John Neilson (accordion, bouzouki) and Geoff March (cello). Geoff was in the band Decameron with Johnny a few decades back. If you are looking for even more music from the talented Johnny Coppin and have exhausted his solo offerings, Decameron might satisfy your desire for more.

The Winding Stair is Coppin's first CD (minus EPs and compilations) since 1993. Fans may have had a long wait, but at least there is a new CD. Folks in the U.K. are fortunate that they can find tour dates on Johnny's website letting them know where they can experience his music live. Those of us across the pond will have to settle for his albums. The Winding Stair will provide approximately 50 minutes of listening pleasure. All the songs are enjoyable. I don't see how you could be disappointed unless you don't care for Celtic or folk music.

by Wil Owen
8 April 2006