What does it sound like?:
Here are the facts – this is a live recording of Judy Dyble and the Band Of Perfect Strangers. They are accompanied by the Ad Hoc strings. The performance was at St Barnabas’s Church in Cambridge, in September 2016.
I thought I had heard very little of Judy’s work. I’m sure I have heard her album as a member of Fairport Convention and probably some Trader Horne. Beyond that I thought I was ignorant, but according to Wikipedia (I don’t have any biography or sleeve notes to go with this) she retired from music in 1973, with a few appearances at Fairport reunions being her sole output until she returned to the music business in 2003. So it seems that there is not that much of a gap in my knowledge given that much of her catalogue since 2003 has only had limited release. Looking at Discogs the eight albums she has made since she returned in 2003 have been released on fairly obscure, independent labels.
So, potted history aside, what’s the album like, you want to know.
Can a record be too polite? In a song titled Silence, Judy sings (albeit with respect to a dinner party) “It was warm, it was nice”. That description is an apt one for this album. She introduces that song with the words “Here’s one that might make you cry”. Unfortunately it doesn’t connect on that level. It opens with lovely piano and bass, then the string section enter providing an especially beautiful and dramatic accompaniment while Judy’s vocals are very pure. But I don’t ever come close to tears.
One of the first things that strikes me about this album is Judy’s enunciation. Pretty much every syllable of every word can be heard and the very Englishness of her voice – there is no slurring, no confusion around the lyrics at all – means you’d never assume she might possibly be American.
There are many things to like about this album but to these ears there is little to love. There is sincerity, maybe even earnestness, but I can’t detect passion. The level of musicality is first rate, though the tunes are not particularly memorable. I’d like to hear just a bit more grit, a bit more fervour, overall I’d like to hear more emotional feeling. I want something that may be far less polished, but touches my heartstrings.
Crow Baby, about a fledgling corvid unsurprisingly, is all sung very gently and tenderly, but also without great depth of emotion – if you’re going to sing “Crow baby don’t you cry” I expect the vocal to pull me at least in the general of tears.
It’s followed by a song called See What Your Words Did To Me. Again I want to feel the joy and pleasure that the lyrics suggest should be there “Catching the warmth of the sun on the land… Feeling your touch on the edge of my hand…” But it comes across very smoothly and I don’t feel any emotional equivalence between the words and performance.
Given the song title, the eleven minute Sisterhood Of Ruralists sounds like it could be rather pretentious and precious, but, dedicated to four friends of Judy’s who are craftswomen working in gold, silver, copper and glass, is rather lovely. I really like the changing moods, expressed through the varying dynamics of the musician’s performances. The string section and band work beautifully together and I think Judy’s vocals on this song is her standout performance on the album.
One of the big surprises, and a song I had long forgotten, is set closer I Talk To The Wind. Yes, it is the King Crimson number, which Judy reminds us she sang first with Giles, Giles and Fripp. As I listened the first time I had the feeling that I had heard Judy sing this before. Eventually I dug out my copy of A Young Person’s Guide To King Crimson, which I suspect hasn’t been played for more than 30 years, and there at the end of side 1 is the GG&F version with Judy on lead vocals. If you know the song, it’s remarkably close to the KC version and none the worse for that. Greg Lake had little work to do having Judy’s version as a guide vocal.
A bit of grit causes oysters to produce pearls. I’d love a bit more grit here; something that would elevate it from the impeccably played and sung to something that suggests blood and tears (I would not suggest for a moment there was a lack of sweat); music that resonates with the emotions of heartache and exultation. Something that says to me “Two fingers of redeye” rather than “Another cup of tea, vicar?”.
What does it all *mean*?
Not everything has to be played with the performer laying heart and soul bare, but I think I prefer it that way.
Goes well with…
A nice cup of tea or a decent white wine.
April 10th 2020
Might suit people who like…
The obvious choice – Fairport Convention, Al Stewart. It’s not particularly folky though. People who appreciate fine ensemble playing, so maybe I should suggest chamber music too.