RALPH McTELL National Treasure Leola TPGCD21

Major songwriter as he is, this album sees McTell honour his first loves - the blues and resophonic guitars - with an album of (mainly) covers.
Add a lean, stripped-down style to a blissful weaving of intimate, honeyed voice with gripping, authentic guitar; apply to a batch of well-picked classic songs and you get an album that's an instant classic itself.

Opener Stagolee gives the game away in seconds: the blues never sounded so alive. Songs are drawn from various sources, from vintage bluesmen Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson to latter-day master Eric Bibb and songwriter Alan Tunbridge. McTell himself makes composer credits only twice - on an arrangement of Mendelssohn like you've never heard before, and on his own An Nans Tewl Hyr Dhe'n Mor (Long Dark Valley To The Sea) - a spooky, resonant piece out on the edge of Scaryland: McTell standing at the crossroads with Johnson.

A couple of tracks in concert remind us what a class live act he is too: Tunbridge's National Seven is anchored on Michael Chapman-like echoey picky slides and the country blues of Blind Boy Fuller's Weeping Willow was never served so well. The sublime National makes its presence felt like a wild angel on all but a couple of tracks where McTell's old 1934 Gibson L1 sneaks in, and minimal guesting from Steve Turner's National, Leah May's BVs and Sam May's harmonium add just a sweet measure of flavouring.
Woody Guthrie's Hard Travelling winds up an album that reinforces McTell's status as one of the outstanding performers of the acoustic movement - new or old.

Three decades on from Streets Of London, Ralph McTell is indeed as described by his pal and fan Billy Connolly recently, a National Treasure.

Mel McClellan - March 2002


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