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Keith James - Tenderness Claws (Hurdy Gurdy)

Known for his meticulous dissection of Nick Drake's idiosyncratic guitar techniques, which he handles with surgical precision, Keith James takes a series of poems written by some of our most noted poets and tenderly delivers each one wrapped in melodies all his own with arrangements courtesy of producer Branwen Munn. The visionary poet William Blake sits comfortably beside lyricist Pete Brown, who's White Room, which became one of Cream's biggest hits of the late 1960s, is featured here with the same melody, albeit with an entirely different approach. Atmospheric in places and aided by one or two almost subliminal sampled effects, the collection includes both Dylan Thomas (A Process in the Weather of the Heart) and Federico Garcia Lorca (Andalucia), who rub shoulders quite effectively and in the hands of Keith James, become one. Twentieth century poetry is further explored with the inclusion of the Beats, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac occupying the same space once again, with Daydreams for Ginsberg being graciously rewarded with a rather dreamy Drake-like accompaniment. There's always a sense of 'now which Nick Drake song is this guitar passage referencing?' James adds three songs of his own, each of which read very much like poetry on the page, yet they are also treated to some fine arrangements, lifting each of them to another level. My only criticism is that Keith's highly emotive voice, although maybe emotive in a slightly theatrical manner reminiscent of Shawn Phillips, does tend to become slightly one dimensional towards the end, although having said that, there are some satisfying moments when further embellished with Sarah Vilensky's Eastern flavoured vocal contributions.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky