Album Review
Call It Freedom

"Folk Roots" issue no.73, July 1989

If you discount the 1985 Live in Edinburgh, then apart from the stirring True and Bold made for the STUC and which had fairly limited availability this is the first all-purpose Gaughan studio album on general circulation since 1983's Different Kind of Love Song! Not exactly the output of a man geared up to career moves - but adding to all that the fact that it was first advertised nearly 18 months back and sampled on a single over a year ago, it has clearly got to deliver or be the biggest anti-climax of the decade. Would I lie to you? It's probably the best thing he's done, including Handful of Earth.

Never a prolific writer or one who will impose his own works where there are songs by other people that perfectly fit the bill, Dick has restricted himself to four songs, one tune and a Trad. Arr. from his own corner. But what songs! All familiar from gigs or radio sessions, they include Shipwreck (his tale of the impotent rage of a man of power and wealth at the mercy of the elements), Amandla! (inspired by the situation in Southern Africa), Call It Freedom (comparing life under Thatcher with the situation in East Europe and Russia) and the Guthrie-esque wry humour of Fifty Years From Now. These all sit perfectly comfortably among the works of Si Kahn, Phil Ochs, Dave Anderson & Dave McLennan, Iain MacDonald and Guthrie himself.

Not only is this probably the strongest bunch of songs Gaughan has assembled on vinyl, he's also worked with a thoroughly appropriate set of session musicians, including (on Shipwreck) Alan Tall's saxophone which has featured on the last two studio albums. This outfit peaks on the roaring and distinctly Moving Hearts-like arrangement of Guthrie's Ludlow Massacre with Tomas Lynch on Uillean pipes, Brian McNeill on fiddle, Jim Sutherland on bodhran and the album's standard rhythm section of Neil Hay (bass) and Mike Travis (drums). Gaughan spits out the words as only he can, and contributes some startlingly rampaging electric guitar - something he's really got to grips with on this record.

But throughout, it's Gaughan's striking vocals that continually pin you back in your seat. Whether it's being caressing (as on Phil Ochs' When I'm Gone or That's The Way The River Runs where his soft delivery intertwines with spacey backing vocals from Elaine Smith) or caustic, you cannot fail to be mesmerised. To my mind, he's probably the best modern singer to have evolved out of British roots that we've got today.

What a pity they spoiled an otherwise perfect album with such an uninspiring cover. Oh, and make sure you get the insert - my copy didn't have one, and it took an 11th-hour 'phone call to the Gaughan household to find out who all the musicians were.


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