Bob Fox,
Borrowed Moments
(Topic, 2003)

Ralph McTell hailed him as "one of England's best voices" -- and few would disagree. With Borrowed Moments, Durham-born singer and guitarist Bob Fox has produced an album of the finest English folk song.

Fox is an excellent vocalist who sings in his native Durham accent, something that always scores big points with me -- it's right to celebrate the United Kingdom's wide regional variations through the medium of song, and the musicians of northeast England have always excelled in this respect. Backed by fine musicians and with a Celtic feel to some of the tracks, this album is full of lyrical songs with strong, narrative lyrics; each song has a proper story to tell.

Fox has taken some of his favourite material, both traditional and contemporary, "to ensure that the art of dealing with life events in song, whether trivial or significant, personal or global, remains the essence of folk music." He plays acoustic guitar, bouzouki and piano; Anna Ryder plays piano accordion and muted trumpet; Norman Holmes, whistle and flute; Neil Harland, double bass; and Chuck Fleming, viola.

"Virginia" opens the album with some lovely whistle playing, telling the story of a convicted highwayman. Fox got the verses from Martin Carthy over the telephone. The song includes a lively mazurka by Norman Holmes. There are few who wouldn't know the famous traditional dandling song "Dance to Your Daddy." The song describes the unfulfilled aspirations of the northern working man -- the richness of Fox's Durham accent comes into its own here.

Ewan MacColl's "Shoals of Herring" is about the decline of the fishing industry; the musical accompaniment is again sensitive and restrained. Vin Garbutt's "She Waits and Weeps" is a sad, emotional song written to mark the grief of the widows of 168 men who died in the 1988 Piper Alpha oil disaster. This narrative thread is very strong in all these songs.

Ralph McTell wrote "Peppers and Tomatoes" to protest against ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, inspired by a grow-bag saying that the soil was suitable for growing peppers and tomatoes. The protest is against man's inability to tolerate, to share, to live together, to allow people self-respect and self-sufficiency. It's a poignant song describing a family being forced out of their home because of their terror of persecution.

"Child of Mine" is a life-affirming song by Sunderland songwriters Anthony and Gerry Kaley, celebrating the precious bond between parent and child. "Last of the Widows" by Jez Lowe marks the tragedy of the Easington Colliery explosion of 1951 in which 83 lives were lost. The piano playing so suits this song. The album closes with a traditional Northumbrian nursing song, "Bonny at Morn," featuring lovely muted trumpet.

This is a beautifully crafted album that will really appeal to lovers of English folk music.

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 29 May 2004

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