No apology necessary from this stellar partnership! Peggy and PJ had combined forces during Fairport's winter 2006 tour, when PJ was the opening solo act, and their union proved such fun that they're taking time out from their main bands for A Night Off With Peggy & PJ tour which kicks off in mid-March and continues into the summer.
Well, a lot of mileage is covered in the album's too-brief 43 minutes, befitting the duo's 'combined 77 glorious years as professional musicians'. That means some affectionate covers of 'blasts from the past' from the annals of both pop and roots-rock, nestling comfortably alongside a series of tributes to Sandy Denny, a couple of typically nifty instrumentals, and – bringing it all back home to the present-day – a trio of superb new songs by PJ himself which form suitably cynical, nay caustic putdowns of contemporary life.
Taking these first, the title track (already familiar from its punchy rendition on the latest Fairport album) is an inspired and masterly little opus that takes the Catholics' tardiness in doing the correct thing and expands the analogy into all manner of delightful folk-cultural directions, all couched in an insidiously catchy Lowell-George-meets-Angel-Delight musical setting. Bread And Circuses is a wonderful rant against the media set to a lithe 'roll over Bert Lloyd' paraphrase of the familiar Sovay tune (a touch of the Duncan McFarlanes there). And the poundstretching opener, Everything's Made In China is another rant, this time against cheap'n'nasty products.
The 'Sandy tribute' section of the album is gorgeous, with an appealingly sensitive PJ cover of her Bushes And Briars followed by two revisits of tracks that were highlights of Peggy's mid-80s Cocktail Cowboy album: Song for Sandy (though I think it's done a touch too briskly here) and best of all a sublime, ringing, harmony-rich take on Steve Ashley's The Journeymen.
The two original Pegg instrumentals, Bankruptured and Peggy's Pub, are both revisits too, but the new arrangements are fresh-minted and, like the rest of this album, light-textured rather than heavy-handed, reminding us of just how skilful these two string-merchants are.
Last but not least, the covers: the Band's King Harvest is an unexpected choice and a success, emphasising the song's funky rootsiness, while Mark Knopfler's homage Donegan's Gone is bathed in a warm glow of natural nostalgia. James Wood's Linseed Memories is a bit of a novelty number, a recent composition fondly recalling that quintessentially English experience (I say, chaps, howzat for a bit of gentle Ray Davies-style whimsy). And so into the Tardis to travel further back in time for the final two cuts: acoustic surf-rock rules with a trilling, pared-down take on the Chantays' Pipeline and that perennial Buddy Holly/Paul Anka classic It Doesn't Matter Anymore is given a persuasive bluegrassy chug.
Yes, this is a definitely feelgood good-humoured album (though not without its serious undercurrents) full of excellent musicianship and cheeky little knowing nostalgic instrumental references (all the way from morris to the Beatles). All performed with a consummate ease yet retaining the seriousness of purpose that goes with the knowledge and enjoyment of doing a thoroughly professional job well. I love it – and I'm sure you will too!
David Kidman, Netrhythms