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Gren Bartley returns after a sabbatical of sorts, time away to reflect, gather his thoughts, recharge his batteries and evidently bond with his new best friend, his new shining resonator guitar, which now presumably occupies many of his waking hours. Anyone familiar with Gren's solo output over the years will know that he writes great songs with great melodies, plays the acoustic guitar extremely well and has an engaging personality that often entertains and baffles in equal measure. There's a sense that his conversational manner on stage comes directly from his current situation. "It's snowing outside" he informed the audience as they sat there unaware, then ponders how this might affect his driving in the morning. You get the feeling that he's just thinking aloud whether he's on stage or off.
Tonight Gren plucked songs from his past repertoire such as A Descent, Porcelain Hand and the brilliant Tall Wooden Walls, all of which mingled effortlessly with a handful of newer songs and tunes from his most recent offering QUIET, which Gren has made available as a free download, something this writer urges you to do immediately. Utilising his new guitar and his accompanying bottleneck slide, reveals a different side to Gren's musicality, a more gentle and meditative approach on pieces such as The Feelings of Mountains and Water and Missing You, a piece derived from Seckou Keita's Kora composition.
If we consider Gren's choice of material for a moment, there's certainly variety in his eclecticism. One moment we're engaged in the narrative of A Descent, the song which contains the album title Songs to Scythe Back the Overgrown, then to be left silent by the sheer beauty of Tide, then to be delighted to the utter cheerfulness and joy of Jack Owens' lilting Hawaiian fishing song Hukilau, only to be then drawn into a world of pain and suffering, with the deep Gospel Blues of My Time is Nearly Over, his guitar literally crying the refrain.
Gren Bartley is one of the most gifted and original singer songwriters to have emerged over the last few years and should be heard more often. Hopefully his return to performing live will gather momentum once people realise just how good he really is.