Album Review | Leola Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5
Reunited with famed record producer Tony Visconti, Ralph McTell returns to the studio for his first album of new songs in almost ten years. Working together on his debut album Eight Frames a Second in 1968 and then again on McTell’s sixth album Not Til Tomorrow just four years later, it somehow feels like the songwriter’s career has come around full circle, with no apparent signs of stopping anytime soon. Hill of Beans, named for one of the eleven songs on the album, sees the folk singing legend on top form as one of our most cherished British songwriters, a songwriter in the folk idiom but also a household name, a rare feat in itself.
As would be expected, the songs cover a broad spectrum, from family memories, “Shed Song” for instance, which vividly describes his uncle’s shed as more of a sanctuary than a place to get things done, which is in turn treated to a sumptuous orchestral arrangement. “Gertrude and Alice” moves the action to a turn of the century Paris, with the story of life partners Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, set to the wistful flurries of period style accordion. A storyteller through and through, Ralph McTell turns his musical and lyrical attention effortlessly between the ragtime exploits of the barber’s shop in “Close Shave”, the gospel of lapsed faith in “Sometimes I Wish I Could Pray” and a Danish liquor-drenched Klezmer feel in “Gammel Dansk”, each song delivered with a mature confidence.
If ‘Hill of Beans’ serves as an expression of something of little importance, then it’s redundant when concerning Ralph McTell’s long and fruitful career, his catalogue of memorable songs and his place in the pantheon of British songwriters. Buy this and you’re more likely to be full of beans.
Choice Track: “Gertrude and Alice” (NSV 486)