30 August 2015

Dan Webster - The Tin Man

The Tin Man is the third album by York-based contemporary folk singer Dan Webster. It’s much more eclectic than his previous two albums; on all three he successfully straddles the line between traditional folk and more modern acoustic singers. The Other Side Of Brightness (2003) was a wholly acoustic thing, with pretty much just Dan on his tod. Diamond Land (2008), however, had a full band with him and felt more like a proper album The Tin Man lie somewhere between the two and features an array of styles. There are several other musicians fleshing out a lot of the songs but, quite often, it’s just Dan and maybe his wife Rachel Brown, on cello.

This is quickly demonstrated as the first song Dancers is just that. A lone, somber cello ushers things in before Dan starts up. it’s a really pretty song, though an odd choice of opener. It's just a nice simple love song with the protagonist expressing his love through the medium of darnce.

Elvis is somewhat of a contrast in comparison. It’s a fun, lively slice of Americana that bounces along merrily, complete with slide guitar and honky tonk piano. It’s about same old requests that get shouted out at pub gigs and Dan’s refusal to play Elvis songs as they ‘leave him cold’. Even Old Shep Dan, you heartless bastard?

The next two tracks are similar in tone to Dancers, pretty, stripped-back love songs though this time with not so much nicety. Number 17 is about an old woman on a bus, talking to the young man in the seat in front of her because he reminds her of her husband, who died in the war. Gold And Tin seems to be about unrequited love or, more accurately, loving someone and never building up the courage to tell them. Both are beautiful little songs but by golly it’s a depressing 8 minutes. Luckily What It’s For is a little livelier and more positive. Or at least it seemed so until he starts on about the woman who broke him and watched him crawl away. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted.

I was talking to Dan when The Tin Man was first released and he mentioned that one review grumbled that the album felt more like a collection of three EP’s. Having listened to it properly now I can sort of see what they meant. Of the next four songs three of them are covers of Trad Folk songs: British Man Of War, Spanish Ladies and When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Having them all bunched together (the latter two are actually one long track) sticks a great big patchouli wedge right down the middle of the album, effectively splitting into three parts. Maybe they’d have been better more spread out or stuck at the end of the album even? There is a connecting story between them though so I can understand why they'd be put together at least.

Anyway, British Man Of War is a typical folk story of a soldier leaving his love to go off to war and promising to come home. The title refers to the warships back in t'olden days rather than the fact he's a british soldier but it works either way. Spanish Ladies is about British soldiers sailing away from Spain to go home and leaving behind the local women who kept them company. I very much hope that the sailor from British Man Of War partook in no such comfort. It’s the first song to feature some nice traditional fiddle too. I’m not entirely sure why Spanish Ladies and When Johnny Comes Marching Home have been recorded as one track other than because they’re quite similar thematically. When Johnny... is a jaunty, buoyant sea shanty and a welcome change of pace. Also, I’m pretty sure we used to sing it at school.

Stuck in the middle of all that folkiness is one of Dan’s own songs called One To Remember. It’s another maudlin song of lost love. It sounds perfect for audience participation at a gig, the chorus is anthemic and memorable and you can picture people in pubs, arm in arm and swaying along drunkenly to it.

Following When Johnny Comes Marching Home is a short song called Old Frends. It’s a wisftully melancholic song about not bothering to find anything or anyone new because they’ll never be as good as what’s gone before. A bit despondent that.

Goodbye begins with a lone cello playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow before Dan’s gentle guitar joins in. The cello ties in with the title of the album, The Tin Man and the fact that the song deals with saying goodbye to a loved one, whether it be a grandparent or someone terminally ill. It’s a heartbreaking song and would have been a fitting end to The Tin Man, if a bit of a downer.

As it happens, once Goodbye finishes there’s a stutter of electric guitar and Gin bursts gleefully forth in a blaze of full on Rock n’ Roll. You can almost see the big, stupid grin on Dan’s face. It’s like nothing he’s ever recorded, it’s completely out of place on this album but, somehow seems all the better for it. I’d love to see an entire album of stuff like this, maybe an EP at least. Perhaps rocked up, electric versions of older songs like She Smiles, Soldier Goes To War, Firecracker, Superstore etc.

I may have grumbled on a bit about the miserableness of this album but, in truth, it’s a beautiful sadness rather than a mopey one that runs through it and The Tin Man is a very listenable album. Dan is a great guitar player and has a strong, emotive voice. He’s contemporary enough to appeal to younger audiences but traditional enough for the older folks. He plays gigs in and around York on an almost constant basis so if you’re ever in the greatest city on God’s Earth perhaps you should bob along on an evening. If you ask nicely he might play Love Me Tender for you.

7 out of 10 – This is good and well worth a check
Best track: Goodbye
You can listen to this and his other albums (although you can also buy them, so do that instead) on Dan’s website HERE

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