A Review of the Tom and Barbara Brown CD
"Tide of Change"

"Tide of Change"
by Tom and Barbara Brown

Copyright: WildGoose Studios 2006
(WildGoose Records WGS 332CD)

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 8/06

This is the third album from this fine duo based in Devon, England. And like the previous two, it contains a nice variety of songs and styles. And again it has the WildGoose elite crack team of SAS men lending their support. These Superbly Adroit Session musicians are of course not really session musicians at all: but folk “star names” in their own right. Well known UK folk names like Paul Sartin, Anahata and Ralph Jordan, to name but three. And vocal support from that sublime harmony singer Lynne Heraud.

Tom Brown has a voice that is redolent of all the best qualities of English singers: a voice free from affectation, a voice seemingly with an effortless range, and a voice that shows there has been clear THOUGHT at what the words he delivers actually MEAN.

You might say that this last quality is “universal”. Is it heck! Far from it. Too many singers use their voices as musical instruments. They may just as well SCAT sing, when you consider all the meaning they lose from their songs.

But as I say, Tom does not fall into this last category. And nor certainly does Barbara. Her singing ­ very redolent of Frankie Armstrong in her pomp ­ is a model in “how to do it”.

And so, preamble over, what of this album? Is it worth shelling out your hard-earned money on?

Well, do you want the HONEST answer? Two minutes into the CD, I would have put a wager on me saying “no”. Here is for why.

They'd kicked-off the album with what must be the worst song the great Eric Bogle ever wrote, and my heart sank at the prospect of a total of over 11 minutes coming up of “Barbara Allen” and “Lowlands of Holland”. Surely I thought, the Geneva Convention had decreed a moratorium on the recording of both?

But guess what? At the end of the album I felt that it had more than overcome the hurdles it had imposed on itself.

I mean, they made a really good fist of the three abovementioned songs.

Take the Bogle.

Perhaps my objection to it is the thought of HIM singing it at the start of the evening. A song with a chorus that includes the words “sorrow, care or fear/tonight have no place here”! Eh?

Eric is a master songwriter who has made a FORTUNE dealing in “sorrow”.

And the Browns too, as has just been illustrated, are no strangers to songs that break one's heart.

And, getting into the album now, let's actually deal with those two seminal traditional songs of the Folk Revival. And tell you now that they were triumphs, especially Barbara's “Barbara Allen”.

I guess they can justify choosing them since both were not quite the usual variant. And then when tackling them they apply a real INTENSITY that surprised me. Veteran singers making the songs sound they were written just yesterday. Not an easy thing to do. Normally, a certain tiredness invades versions of both songs. “Lowlands of Holland” especially, normally bears Carthy's imprint. Not here. Barbara sings it like she has never heard Martin's version.

The real success of the album are the two music hall-type ballads. “Bread & Cheese & Cider” is a variation on “Boiled Beef and Carrots” (or probably the other way round) and “When Mother & Me Joined In” is from the writing of the now almost forgotten Devon dialect writer AJ Coles, who under the pen name of Jan Stewer was almost as famous in his day, as William Barnes was in the adjoining county of Dorset.

The liner notes, as you would expect from WildGoose, are a model in how things should be done.

One curiosity though. I see that the tune of “Exe, Barle and Bray” is said to be “nicked from Danny Dove” who created it in about 1973.

Eh? Have I got my ears on wrong?

I must have, because I'd otherwise have sworn that Danny himself had nicked the tune for the chorus from Ewan MacColl's “Thirty Foot Trailer” !

And mentioning MacColl, makes me close this review with the one thing about this album that lifted my heart the most. With “In Friendship's Name”, they end the CD by doing a version of a song from the singing of the great Borders shepherd, Willie Scott.

But they refused to do a cod Scots “Borders” accent! They insisted it be translated out of dialect, and into “RP” English. I salute them both.

And yes, I can hear you say, “but what has that got to do with Ewan MacColl?”


Jimmy Miller was a Salford lad who instead of singing in his boyhood Mancunian accent chose, when becoming a performer, to adopt the accent ­ and indeed DIALECT - of his dad.

I never did understand how he managed to lecture people for so long on the importance of “singing in their own voice” … and still get away with it!

That takes chutzpah. And genius. And MacColl was blest with an abundance of both.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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