Classically-trained guitarist Richard Durrant calls this, “The most personal album I have ever made. It is both high art and low art, Christian and pagan, summer and winter.”
Label: Independent – www.richarddurrant.com
Time: 22 tracks / 63 mins
As beautifully presented as the sound is crisp, this 63 minutes is cleverly spread across two discs, even though it would fit on one.
Disc One is sprightly, clear and tuneful; ten works by Bach mixed in with British folk melodies like “The Skye Boat Song” and is all solo music played on a tenor guitar, the ukulele and a concert guitar made from 5,000 year-old bog oak.
That ancient instrument is partly what inspires this collection’s Englishness, and straight after finishing it, Durrant cycled over a thousand miles to play ten concerts.
He considered it a “personal pilgrimage, which I hoped would reconnect me with a country that I love, but no longer understand, recognise or even feel comfortable being associated with... after the [Brexit] referendum in 2016.” So to emphasise the importance of working with Europe, rather than think we are better as an individual nation, he has placed the German Bach (including a brisk version of the same "Bouree" that Jethro Tull have made so famous), alongside folk tunes that evoke the British landscape.
Disc Two (sub-titled The English Guitar Hymnal) is mostly Durrant originals, and has a fuller sound. Unusually, he sings lead vocals on three songs and plays a host of other instruments himself, such as double bass, cello, shruti box, harpsichord and organ.
For a sample of its variety, there is a track based on the Elgar cello concerto played on tenor guitar, harpsichord, chamber organ and bodhran; a Morris dancing piece; a traditional tune reworked with the title “Frank Bough’s Allemande” and two hymns (“To Be a Pilgrim” and “We Plough the Fields”) with additional lyrics - the former adapted to apply to minstrels.
It also includes “Kenneth the Hedge,” inspired by the XTC single “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages,” that would fit quite happily on albums by occasionally-whimsical prog bands like Caravan.
On this half, Durrant is joined by Howard Beach on harpsichord and organ, Piers Adams on recorders, Stephen Hiscock on percussion and drums, along with Nick Pynn on fiddle and dulcimer.
Which is the better disc? It's hard to tell and the answer probably lies with what mood you're in: if you want something with good tunes and without the distraction of words, the first is better; if you want a more rounded, radio-show type of listen, then the other has plenty to engage. And at a half-hour each, they both easily keep your attention.
If you tried the link above, you'll hear what a pure sound he can get on these instruments, and what a beautifully ringing sustain.
The virtuoso playing is fluidly precise throughout, and the track selection and arrangement are superb. I was delighted to come across Stringhenge and I get the feeling that this album may make Durrant a lot of friends very quickly.