A Review of the John Munro CD
"Plying My Trade"
"Plying My Trade"
by John Munro
This review is written by Dai Woosnam, email@example.com, 8/07
To many regular readers of these pages, John Munro
will need no introduction. But I am still going to give him one:
not in order to pad out the review, but because this website constantly
attracts readers who are new converts to the Folk Scene and who
genuinely may never have heard of the man. But I will keep my
introduction brief as there is much I want to say about the album, and
space is limited.
Munro left Glasgow and emigrated to Australia when he was just 18.
There, he quickly found the folk haunts and was soon immersed in the
music. He was a founder member of Country Express in 1969 and later,
But it is as an accompanist to the great Eric Bogle that John is
best-known here in the UK (from where I write). After all, they have
toured the UK six times together. And I have written before on
just what performance gifts John Munro brings to the table: Eric
without John is still a considerable force, but WITH him, the duo
become a world-class act.
Right, that is the introduction dispensed with. Now, down to business with the review.
Amazingly, this is Munro's first solo album. In the liner notes, he
says that although he has participated in over 50 recordings of other
people, he has always preferred to be in the background until now. But
Ian Green (the boss of Greentrax) suggested this project, and John
Now, was he wise to agree? Well, before I answer that, let me not
let the moment pass (seeing as I referred, en passant, to the liner
notes) without saluting Greentrax for notes that are a model in “how to
do it well”. John Slavin's design and use of white print on a black
background should become the template for all these labels who insist
on psychedelic colours and almost illegible typeface that reviewers
(like me) soon give up on reading. Here however, it was a true pleasure
to read the text.
And a pleasure, not least because Munro's explanations as to what made
him write the songs, are every bit as interesting as the songs
But hey, I hear you ask, “what about his performance? Do we detect a big BUT rearing its head?”
No, have no fear. Yes I know that the precedents are not necessarily
good! I can name you – but I won't! – one accompanist who was coaxed
into finally making a solo CD, and turned out to sing so badly that one
deaf acquaintance of mine refused to watch his lips move.
But there was never any danger of that with John Munro! The fact
is that one is staggered that it has taken him so long: indeed he
should be flogged for his lassitude (I don't buy the “modesty” thing:
the man must surely KNOW that he is pure class).
Pure class as a “performer” that is. But what about his song writing?
Well, here one is less emphatic. Having listened closely to this album
several times, I have to say that the “jury is out” on his song writing
Oh, they are all well crafted songs, alright. Good use of rhyme and an
ear for reasonably distinctive melodies. But, if I am honest, I cannot
imagine many of them being taken up and sung by floor singers in your
local folk club. Good, earnest songs though they are, they don't
generally have that “wow” factor.
And then, I look at what I have just written, and breathe those words
back in! Why? Well, because there are two songs here that are close to
top-drawer. And both of them bring to mind ANOTHER artiste whose
brooding presence I felt throughout the album. I refer to John Wright.
Munro and Wright sound to me like brothers: such is the shared vocal
“She Waits For Me” is a fine song that you can just hear the John
Wright Band (of blessed memory, circa 2000/2001) really going to town
on. On the surface, this is a very personal love song from Munro to his
wife Alana, but trust me, this could be the theme song of all
professional troubadours who spend half their year away from the spouse
And then there is a song almost its equal: “Sisters” is a song he wrote
about the two 29 year old Iranian conjoined twins, whose tragic final
days were lived out in the glare of the world's TV cameras, a couple of
years or so back. What Munro does here is not just dwell on the tragic
facts, but gets to the essence of these two brave women: shows that
they were a credit to humanity, and that their courage frankly humbles
As befits a John Munro album, the musicianship is of the highest order.
Emma Luker (from Colcannon) stood out from an already stellar field:
her violin and cello work is of such distinction that she didn't just
“hit me for six”: she hit me for seven, and counting.
Munro closes the album with a non-self penned number: the perennial
song that closes The Cambridge Folk Festival every year. “Wild Mountain
Thyme”. And he does something rather special with it.
Whether it was his big arrangement, I don't know. But he succeeded in
making me listen to this while NOT (for once) hankering after the first
version I ever heard: that from the incomparable McPeake Family, whose
definitive version has, down the years, left everyone else's sound as
though “found wanting” by comparison.
And thus it is that I hope that like London buses, after an age spent
waiting, another Munro album will soon follow in hot pursuit. This one,
would be a CD of interpretations of the best “unknown” songs: songs,
which are bubbling under, Down Under.
Because for sure, this man has all the gifts necessary, to bring them to a world audience.
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