A Review of the Johnny Dickinson CD
"Hilo Town"

"Hilo Town"
by Johnny Dickinson

Copyright Hard Road Recording 2006

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 3/07

I was talking to someone yesterday whose opinion on matters relating to the UK Folk Scene, I respect. And she asked me what I was reviewing right now.

I mentioned Johnny Dickinson amongst others.The name registered alright: she'd bought a previous album. I asked her what she thought.

She was very complimentary, but then added “but of course he is a bit derivative”. Eh? As if “derivative” is a pejorative word! Have you ever realised how much work you have to put in at the coal face to truly BE “derivative”? And anyway, isn't every artiste (apart from maybe a true genius like a Stravinsky, Picasso or a Django Reinhardt) inevitably derivative?

But that said, I now have to say that this album is one of the LEAST derivative albums I have heard in a long while. (Even though it could well have been exactly the opposite. After all, it is an album of numbers from the Tradition: pieces all made varying-degrees-of-famous by celebrated performers in the past.)

But Johnny sets out NOT to do cover versions: instead he bravely attempts to do re-workings of every piece. And of course, the question is: “do they come off”?

The answer is a qualified “yes”. I say “qualified”, because although these re-workings are respectful of the originals (and are never “taking the proverbial”, like say Dylan doing his own “Blowin' In The Wind” as a Trenchtown original), one wonders why Johnny felt the sheer need to re-work some of them? (Of course, maybe he did not: maybe he just sensed that you cannot do things by halves. Half an album of re-workings may be better than none, but it would leave the purchaser feeling vaguely cheated.)

So Johnny gives us the full monty. And I have to say, at all times exudes good taste. And the four fellow-musicians that make up his ensemble, never once let him down.

Some tracks I enjoyed a lot. The Diz Disley type approach to “The Drunken Piper” – the opening track - set the tone for what was to follow. And as he starts, he ends: with an instrumental. For the closing track has him showing his mastery of slide guitar in a lyric-free version of “Ye Banks And Ye Braes”.

But the standout track is his quirkiest. Turning (Tae) “A Beggin I Will Go”, into a mariachi special. Suddenly I am in the Zocolo in Mexico City. And yet, he succeeds in capturing the song's soul.

To sum up: this is an album that may not pull up any major trees, but will definitely add to Johnny Dickinson's growing reputation, throughout Britain and beyond.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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