Gren Bartley – Carry Her Safe

Album Review | Musician Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

On first listen, the opening song and title track to this collection of songs is almost like transporting oneself back in time, by approximately forty years, to Steve Tilston’s debut An Acoustic Confusion.  The youthful confidence of one of Britain’s leading singer-songwriters and guitar players seems to have come round full circle.  The more I listen to Gren Bartley, the more I am reminded of that special period, when providing you had a guitar and could play “Anji” reasonably well, then you were set for a life of travel whilst making very little bread on the folk scene, man.  However, you were almost certain to experience an interesting life on the road, instead of getting your hands mucky down’t pit, and with almost no trouble at t’mill whatsoever.  Gren Bartley doesn’t go for over-production, nor does he drown his songs in pointless instrumentation, and neither does he invite all his mates around to get in on the action.  This reminds me of the days when Bill Leader would stick a reel-to-reel in his kitchen and make coffee whilst his protégé would sit in the corner and ‘emote’ and hope that the toaster wouldn’t pop up during the best take.  I like this because it’s good honest music.  I haven’t caught Bartley live yet but I imagine what you have here is something resembling what you’d get from a live performance.  With the addition of just a bluesy harmonica, courtesy of Robin Melville, Bartley’s finger style guitar-led songs, owe a debt to those Sixties troubadours who went before, some of whom are still around doing exactly the same today as they did in their heyday.  Wizz Jones, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Ralph McTell would recognize in Bartley’s playing something very familiar.  Like Jansch, Bartley is also an exceptionally good banjo player, evident here on “Joule’s Yard” and “Eleventh Hour”, where much of the dexterous playing is down to good old-fashioned hard work and practice.   “Last Night” reveals a blues player who has obviously done his homework.  Reminiscent of Big Bill Broonzy’s distinctive style of finger picked blues, the song is given respectful treatment from both Bartley and Melville, with a performance worthy of any late night Belgian jazz bar you care to mention.  With the addition of a sensitively underplayed piano complement, “Favourite Red Coat” showcases another side of Bartley, that of a mature songwriter who seems to be equally at home with a beautifully tasteful and tender ballad as with the more bluesy numbers.  After thirteen tracks of outstanding quality, you tend to forget that these are all Bartley originals and it seems you’ve heard them all before.  Well if you’ve not exactly heard any of these numbers before, you’ve heard something similar, a long time ago and in good old black and white.