Jeff Warner

Jolly Tinker

Gumstump Records 101

River Driving; The Southern Girl’s Reply * ; Only a Soldier; The Bonny Bay of Biscay-O; Baldheaded End of the Broom; Little Black Train; When the Shanty Boy Comes Down; Come Take a Trip in My Airship; Crossing the Bar; 1845; Yucky Bugs; The Snow is on the Ground * ; The Bold Privateer; The Jolly Tinker * ; Mandalay.
Cover picture Jeff Warner is the son of Frank and Anne Warner, whose collecting of American traditional music and songs (mainly from the eastern states) has featured on several CD reissues, most notably Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still and Nothing Seems Better to Me, The Warner Collection Volumes 1 & 2 (Appleseed APR CD 1035 & 1036, 2000).  Songs appearing on these two CDs are indicated by an asterisk in the tracklisting above.

I was surprised to read in the accompanying press release that this is his first solo CD, as he's been touring in Europe for many years, formerly in a duo with Jeff Davis, and latterly alone.  Oddly, I was never in the right place at the right time to hear them or him until about three years ago, when I was lucky enough to catch a very enjoyable solo set in Walthamstow.  It should be said, however, that the word 'solo' is hardly appropriate to this CD as he has the assistance of eight other musicians, albeit only one or two at a time, and few of the tracks are actually of Jeff on his own.

Having seen one full gig and several concerts sets, I would guess that this CD is intended to reflect his current folk club repertoire, and it includes quite a wide range of material from longish serious songs, through a few lighter pieces, a gospel song, and some more modern material, including a setting of Tennyson's Crossing the Bar and the Pete Bellamy version of Mandalay.  In this latter, his having learnt it from an English voice results in some English inflections being added to his American accent - resulting in an almost Australian sound in places!

But it's a fine record, and presents a well-varied set of songs which make for a pleasant listen - even if it's the more serious material which I find the most enjoyable.  We begin with River Driving - a great song which is probably better-known as My Girl's Waiting for Me for its heartbreaking refrain at the end of each verse.  It was published in 1916 without a tune, and the one Jeff uses was added by Dan Berggren in 1990 - and it really is a cracker!

The Southern Girl's Reply is another one to tug at the heartstrings - a Civil War song about the divisions such cruel undertakings so often result in, over and above the senseless loss of life on both sides.  It, too, features a chorus/refrain which seems almost at odds with the story being told - and therein lies its emotional power.  It came from Eleazar Tillitt on the Outer Banks of North Carolina - home of many a wonderful song, and singer.

Mercifully, the third song, Only a Soldier, is a version of The Dragoon and the Lady (Roud 321), and so much more lighthearted - and with a happy ending!  It comes from Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire, and is exactly the same (or almost so) as that recorded by Paul Brady in 1976, as The Jolly Soldier - except that his moved the tune from Mrs Fish's polka version, into jig time.

The Bonny Bay of Biscay-O is not the revenant ballad, but a jaunty little nautical number, again from Mrs Fish - and not found anywhere else, so far as we can tell.  When the Shanty Boy Comes Down, collected from Canadian lumberman Jim Doherty, is a splendid version of Jack Tar on Shore, to the tune of Don't Come Again (Paul Brady again!).  It features some gloriously quirky line-lengths and melodic variations, which I'm sure Harry Cox would have enjoyed hearing.  Fiddler Rodney Miller shows just how good he is by following them perfectly.

The Snow is on the Ground is the second offering from the repertoire of Eleazar Tillitt, and it sits happily in the family which includes The Trees are all Bare and What's the Life of a Man, sharing their winter imagery and religious overtones.  Each verse's final line, 'It's time to remember the poor', is particularly striking.

The title track, The Jolly Tinker, is again form Mrs Fish, and seems to be a collection of floating verses from the many 'Tinker' songs in the oral tradition celebrating the tinker and his several abilities:

A tinker never marries, has a girl in every town,
And they shower me with kisses as they bring their kettles down.
Somehow, it doesn't seem to sit too comfortably with the rest of what's on offer here, and I'm rather surprised that Jeff decided to use this as the title for the CD.  Nonetheless, this is a most enjoyable record, well worth buying, via PayPal, from   Get it, and then go and see him live.

Rod Stradling - 2.8.06

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