Great Guitar

It’s rare to hear folk guitar played so that every string rings out clearly when a chord is played, while at any moment the musician may switch modes and start playing lead or flatpick; where the strumming is not out of time but neither is it metronomic, in the sense that Charlie Parker stated harmony which wasn’t strictly within the bounds of the written changes but it still sounded right; where the player changes styles on a whim, just like Davey Graham.

Earlier this year, guitarist and now singer-songwriter Richard Sample, based in Nottingham UK, released Don’t Stop the Love, a CD consisting of sixteen original songs, in which his assured and excellent acoustic guitar playing stands out.

The bulk of the album is divided between solo and band arrangements. On the latter, Richard is with Rupert Batchelor on harmonica, (the second ‘voice’ in the band), Steven Varney on guitar and vocals, Colin Melia on perfectly muffled-sounding bass guitar and Stevie Otter on drums that have a garage-band-acoustic.

The Songs and the Singing

All the songs were recorded with the vocals being laid down at the same time as the playing, a technique which has its pluses and minuses. The solo numbers certainly have intensity, whether on the thoughtful ‘Town of Emotion’ or the rhythmically insistent ‘Loving House’. It also seems easier for the voice to stay in tune while the body is resonating with the guitar. However on the band numbers it often seems like Richard is straining to hear himself above the folk-rock bonhomie. There is a shaky quality to some – though not all – of the singing.

The group songs tend to be singalongs with unison vocals. It’s quite an achievement to write even one song of this type but there are several on this album. The acoustic reggae ‘Feel a Rush’ is probably the most catchy. ‘Save the Day’ and the similarly upbeat title track are also memorable but the one that sticks with this listener is ‘Colder Now’. It’s still cheerful but it’s as if the boys are going to have to pool their resources for an upcoming challenge.

While the vocals are sometimes lacking technically, they have none of the pop sensibilities or pseudo-jazz stylings which are so often heard these days. This is not rock either, nor is it the slick kind of folk music which almost seems a contradiction in terms. The overriding style is country, as it has always been with Richard, and this is something which sets him apart from a lot of his contemporaries, at least in Britain. The songs ‘Loretta Lynn’ and the beautiful ‘Boat Full of Tears’ are two fine examples of this.

In Praise of Maturity and The Ending

Despite the prevailing custom in popular music wherein the young have more right to be heard than the middle-aged, there is something to be said for a song like ‘It Ain’t Love’. It sounds as if the writer has enough life experience to be genuinely wistful and has enough relationship experience to know what love really is.

Indeed, the album as a whole has a positive message which seems to be borne not out of naive idealism but empirical knowledge. It’s a lengthy affair, with the final three songs standing slightly apart. Here Richard has overdubbed a combination of fiddle, mandolin and banjo to augment his live voice and guitar renderings.

Both performance and composition are at their peak for the final song, the defiant, energetic ‘Ain’t Never Too Long Ain’t Never Too Late’. There is a life-affirming quality to the music and lyric, with the line “A baby needs a cuddle like a gambler needs a double” sounding like Woody Guthrie, which is mighty fine company to keep.

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