This review is written by Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org, 6/03
Can there be anyone left who does not know the voice of Mike Silver? As an almost exact contemporary of his, I doubt if there is anyone of MY vintage at least, who has not, time and time again, just closed our eyes and allowed the plaintive beauty of his high tenor voice to just float us away on his magic carpet of acoustic guitar and (in this case) the accompanying sound of some very fine session musicians.
But for you youngsters reading this, let me try and exactly "place" the voice in the vast range of well-known Folk voices. Well, Mike's timbre always makes me think of that wonderful singer so redolent of a sepia-coloured England of country lanes and warm beer: Johnny Coppin. But the voice is not quite as ethereal as Coppin's: it is somewhere between Coppin and the more earthy tenor voice of - say - an Eddie Walker. But what the heck! Let's not worry about "placing" the voice: the question is whether the voice is on top of its form. And the answer is an emphatic "yes"!
Before I played this album, I noted that one track "Not A Matter of Pride" had achieved some airplay on mainstream BBC Radio2. It is a song with a pleasant melody and a sweet hook, and a certain "je ne sais quoi", and with one absolutely arresting line (describing someone who is not listening): "But he's five cans down a six-pack". Great!! (I bet that line was the line that jumped out at the Radio2 deejays, and made them select the track.)
I played this album five times all the way through. Just listening to the man sing was so darned enjoyable. He is ably assisted by some luminaries on the German folk scene. It is almost invidious to pick anyone out, but multi-instrumentalist Beo Brockhausen impressed not just with his astonishing versatility, but with his authoritative playing throughout. And Hans-Jörg Maucksch's fretless base ALWAYS demonstrated a real musical intelligence.
Most of the songs are written by Mike. Their subject matter commendably runs a considerable gamut: "falling in and out of love; returning home suddenly from a truncated tour; moving out of a shared house; his mother spending her last days in a nursing home looking back to the days when her children were small; homesickness; loss of custody of children following an acrimonious divorce; and two songs more cryptic than to easily yield up their meaning so as to be easily categorised.
And the album is handsomely produced with some attractive liner notes, and a full set of lyrics. As for the liner notes, they have that nice touch of the "idiosyncratic" that I find endearing. At the end of the lyrics for track 7 we read the following: "NB: You may hear a slight rattle from Mike's guitar in a number of places during the song. It is because the instrument was tuned very low."
And then there's his nice witty remark with regard to track 8, "Southern Hemisphere": a song where he describes the homesickness that overtook him when performing at the Christchurch Folk Festival, in South Island, NZ:
"I mean you can't get any further from England than New Zealand. If you go any further, you're on your way back!"
Lovely. There are other things to applaud, but I haven't the space. However, I guess that those with keen antennae can sense a "but" lurking here, and there sure is one. And alas it must come out. I would be failing in my duty as a reviewer if I did not present it to you, dear reader (and potential CD buyer).
I think part of the clue to what follows comes in his introductory notes to track 5, "Leaving Song". He says the following:
"I heard James Taylor interviewed on radio and it was mentioned that he had just ended a marriage."
Now, STOP! What does that mean exactly? Ended his own (JT's) marriage, by asking for a divorce? Or did JT end someone else's (by - say - committing adultery)?
You might say, what does it matter? And in a sense, you'd be right. But alas, this lack of precision with words, finds its way into too many of his lyrics. Heavens, we aren't looking for a Kristofferson or a Ewan MacColl here, but one would like more of a sense that words are paying their rent in every one of his lines, rather than just the occasional one.
And then we come to his ability to write a melody. Unquestionably ALL his tunes are easy on the ear. But here is the puzzle: how is it that a man with such a beautiful voice cannot really come up with a tune that will (if I can borrow from Sir Edward Elgar's description of the melody of "Land Of Hope And Glory") "knock 'em flat!"
Well, that's a bit unfair of me. The fact is that his tune for "Reaching Out For Love" (his setting for lyrics by Ewen Curruthers) is perhaps a bit of stunner. So that's me put in my place!
Let's hope he puts me in my place more often in the future.
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