“Imagine a Scottish Billy Bragg, playing folk songs on the same level as Woody Guthrie, with the lyrics (almost) on par with Robert Burns.”
To put it as blunt as possible, when I think of modern Scottish folk music, I think of Alistair Hulett. There, I’ve said it. I can now take a deep breath and continue on. The former frontman of Roaring Jack has produced yet another stunning album that continues to define the way folk music should be played. “Riches & Rags” is Ally’s seventh acoustic album. That’s not counting the (3) Roaring Jack albums. Many of you have probably heard a few of those Roaring Jack tunes by now, so now is as good a time as any to pick up an Alistair Hulett solo album. I’d start with this one.
Actually, The full title of the album is: “Riches & Rags; Modern Music for Wireless and Gramophone” Performed by: Alistair Hulett and several of his friends. (Friends include Gavin Livingstone, Nancy Kerr, & James Fagan) “Riches And Rags” is the first album without longtime collaborator Dave Swarbrick since the mid-nineties. It’s an album that mixes everything from his self penned hard-hitting political songs, to some traditional material, to a couple of blues numbers. Out of all the Alistair albums I own, “Riches & Rags” cover the most ground. It contains four originals, (Two of them reworked Roaring Jack tunes!) four covers, and three traditionals. I’ve had “Riches & Rags” in my CD player for over a month now, and after playing it a few dozen different times, I can promise you this: the album is absolutely brilliant from start to finish.
1. The Fair Flower Of Northumberland. (Traditional)
An 18th century border ballad. Alistair interprets the Scots version. The song is basically a warning to all the young Englishwomen to avoid any romantic endeavors with the Scots border reivers. If you ask me, it’s a perfect song to play while you ask some English lass for a dance, & give a wee wink to your Scottish ancestors when she’s not looking!
2. Criminal Justice (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
Originally recorded with Roaring Jack. It’s a song about the derailment of the justice system by the powers that be. I enjoyed listening to Alistair’s acoustic versions of all these old Roaring Jack songs.
3. Riches And Rags (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
For those keeping score, this song is the most recent Hulett original to date. According to Ally, this is a song about remembering not to forget.
4. The Recruited Collier (Traditional)
More or less, a song about recruiting the poor, to fight the rich man’s war. Something’s never change eh?
5. The Dark Eyed Sailor (Traditional)
One of my favorite tracks on the record! A Nautical tune! Alistair gives new light to this “dark-eyed” traditional number.
6. Stealin’ Back To My Same Old Used To Be (Will Shade)
This song was originally written and recorded back in 1926, by Will Shade & his The Memphis Jug Band. Alistair makes a great point, the jug band tradition of using household utensils and DIY ethic is similar to 70’s punk music. A bluesy number that surprised me the first time I heard it.
7. Shot Down In Flames (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
Another Roaring Jack song about those not-so-happy moments at the end of a relationship. Fantastic lyrics, Mr. Hulett…Yet again!
8. Militant Red (Words & Music by A. Hulett)
A fantastic love song about a woman who wants to overthrow a certain “you-know-who” This song was originally on my favorite Alistair album “In The Back Streets Of Paradise” (Think acoustic Roaring Jack) Alistair originally recorded it with The Hooligans after Roaring Jack disbanded, and before he moved back to Scotland.
9. Old King Coal (John Kirkpatrick)
John Barleycorn moves to the city, if you will. I’d love to track down the original.
10. The First Girl I Loved (Robin Williamson)
Let’s be honest, sometimes you need to sit back and reflect on things. Sometimes an image of an old girlfriend pops into your head when this happens… If I were a guitar player, I’d love to learn this beautiful song. I’m not a guitar player and I’d still love to learn this beautiful song. (Just don’t sing it around your wife) The dorbo resonator guitar playing in the background completes the mood perfectly.
11. Trouble In Mind (Richard M. Jones)
What a great blues song! It’s even greater to hear Ally covering it. (Yet another song to track down.) The perfect track to end a perfect album on.
In other news, Alistair Hulett will be touring the USA this April. If you are in the Northeast/Midwest part of the country, consider yourselves lucky. (Can I sleep on your couch?) More details to be posted on Shite’n’Onions soon! Also, in Roaring Jack news, there may be another album coming out this year! A Live/Rarites album is the rumor. We’ll keep you posted.
Review By Brian Gillespie