STYLE: Roots/Acoustic RATING OUR PRODUCT CODE: 180514-29908 LABEL: Independent FORMAT: CD Album
Reviewed by Tony Cummings
In the latest issue of RnR magazine (the mainstream folk, roots and rock magazine that started life as Rock'n'Reel) there's an interview with Rob Halligan. In it the Coventry-based singer/songwriter made an intriguing statement, "I'm not folky enough to be a folk singer. I'm not Christian enough to do a Christian thing." Such words are not a veiled confession of backsliding but rather a sad acknowledgement that some parts of the Christian media world have ignored Rob's albums because they don't often namecheck Jesus and therefore aren't considered "Christian" music. This myopic view - particularly prevalent in America's Bible belt - is not of course shared by Cross Rhythms who down the years have been playing Rob's beautifully crafted songs such as 2004's "Streets Of This Town", 2009's "Blue Jeans" and his latest playlist hit "Hold You Tonight". With this new set Rob has overcome the challenges of lockdown to deliver what is to my ears his best ever album. Rob told RnR that 'Always Heading Home' "reflects that life is a journey, full of triumphs and tragedies." Indeed it does. In many ways it is a continuation of the theme first explored so eloquently on his fines album 'We All Write The Songs'. The title track to that album has the lines "And we all write the songs/And we all sing along/And the world dances to the tune of our song." Now on this set the theme is expanded, "We all write the stories/We all write the songs/We all have our glories/We all have our wrongs/There's more on the horizon/So much more than we can see/It's when we understand the truth/That we'll be free." Having sounded that note of hope, the songsmith then ponders the glorious ever-changing wonder of these lives of ours. "This world is a kaleidoscope/An orchestra of life/A masterful creation//With a million shades of lights/Every colour needs the other/There's no glory on our own/Together we can make a light/That lights the road we're on." As the final capper to an outstanding lyric Rob paraphrases and expands an old Steve Turner poem for a middle eight. "History repeats itself/It has to, no one hears/The lessons that it tries to teach/Through those chaotic years." All this is set to a thudding mid-tempo groove laid down by his regular production compatriots Sandy Jones and Graeme Duffin and with some sublime whistle from Ewan Cameron "We All Write The Stories" is the perfect album opener. The delights don't stop there. The reflective "Promised Land" has some haunting fiddle from Chris Haigh as Rob observes "Sometimes people try to change the road they're given/They dig it up and they start again/Back at the start they don't change their direction/And it all works out the same/I thought by now well I'd have reached my destination/But the road keeps winding on/I trip and fall but I know there's nothing wasted/It's all treasure that belongs/In the promised land." That is followed by "Nothing Good Is Wasted" where elegant piano is all that is needed to bring out the poignancy and insightfulness of another fine Halligan lyric while the Celtic-sounding "Homeward Hie" sounds like something those wonderful Celtic exponents Nigel Cameron and Julie Cameron Hall could have turned in. Elsewhere, the story song "You Never Can Tell" could almost be a snapshot of the lives of Johnny Cash and his adoring wife June (whether it is or not I've absolutely no idea) but with its country hoedown vibe and yet more great lyrics ("It was never gonna be an easy road/But then again it never is") it's a hugely enjoyable romp. There's still room for a voice and acoustic version of the haunting "Wayfaring Stranger" (which was never going to quite reach the epic heights of a version by Smoky Mountain/Claire Lynch I once featured on the Spirit Of Rock And Soul programme, good though Rob's reading is). "Come O Thou Traveller", taking the words of an old Charles Wesley hymn and giving them a new tune with Sandy Jones adding some dramatic percussion, and the traditional seafaring ballad "Row On" both fit in beautifully with the album's theme of life's journey. The album is bookended with another sinuously wistful gem - the title track. It goes, "And promises were made/In good faith and in bad/And memories will fade/Of the darker days we had/And like a breath/Life is here and gone/Burning bright on the eye/And stay when breath has done." A magnificent album which will bring much reward to those who search it out.
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not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed
views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may
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