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Grace Notes
Artist: Stevenson and Samuel
Label: Gold Records
Length: 14 tracks/42.23

In the midst of the myriad activities pulling on my time at last year's Greenbelt festival, there was one duo which I kept stumbling across and who had a power to relax and inspire me which was most certainly needed. I had been aware of Steve Stockman and Sam Hill's mixture of poetry and music previously and had spent a little time with a pre-release of this album beforehand, but it was in that setting--whether inside a converted betting hall or sitting in a paddock which for a short while had been transformed for intimate concerts--that the songs became solid and familiar.

Steve Stockman has been writing and publishing poetry for some years now, and Sam Hill has a string of albums behind him. Their collaboration was born out of an experiment, but has developed beyond that, with a result reminiscent at times of Bruce Cockburn's mixture of spoken word and sung lyrics on The Charity of Night but with a stronger emphasis on spoken poetry than on the musical intricacy which identifies Cockburn. Sam Hill's gentle vocals and Stockman's strong Irish accent fit together more naturally than one might be forgiven for expecting, and it all comes together for a relaxing yet captivating experience.

Live last summer they started off a little hesitant, gradually developing the live version through the weekend. Here, as is to be expected on the recording, everything's a bit more polished and the sound is filled out with a variety of other instruments, most notably the many stringed contributions of Dave Clifton. From time to time it is a little too much. While the increased tempo of the woven song and poetry piece "Seven Wonders" is welcome, it breaks the dreamy feel of the album and it can feel a little glossy.

The fact that the album is focused on grace is given away by the title and worked out consistently with songs and poems which draw together observations of common grace, that which is being worked out generally in creation, and God's involvement in the writers' lives. The writing is immediately accessible but layered, providing more to find in successive listens. Longer time Sam Hill fans will be glad to know that he's included a new recording of old favourite "Thunder and Rain."

The last few tracks of the album introduce some variation which is welcome but could perhaps have been slightly better sequenced. Overall, this album is one of clarity which presents well the relaxed air and the tenderness of its live performance.

James Stewart  01/19/2002

James Stewart is a writer, web-designer and student based near London, UK. He co-ordinates the Greenbelt Festival's website and runs the Britlinks website, dedicated to Christian involvement in British and Irish music.



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