Ward & Parker are John Parker on double bass and Cliff Ward, sensational guitarist and founding member of The Willows, so you know you are in for a treat before the album opens. For the uninitiated these two have brought a John Martyn & Danny Thompson sound into the 21st century, both great musicians whose skills complement each other perfectly.
"One" is a mix of Folk, Jazz, and Blues supported by terrific harmonies and first class playing. The ten track album opens with a bow stroke for "Be With Me", which is an upbeat love song that would settle at the fringes of pop were it not for the astonishingly good acoustic guitar backing. Acoustic guitar harmonics and gentle bow bass introduce "Not Enough", a slower, and beautifully constructed song with jazzy overtones that would go down a storm in any of the world's great jazz clubs. For me, this was an immediate favourite, because of its changing moods seamlessly combining folk and jazz sounds.
"Why Worry" has real echoes of John Martyn, but the voices are less slurred - I'm still not quite sure how Martyn got away with some of his vocals, but he always seemed to! Just imagine his iconic self at his best, singing with clarity of voice and you will get a feel for the quality of this song, driven by some fabulous guitar and beat box rhythms, and is one of the more inventive tracks on the album. The double bass in "Feels So Right", feels so right! Give this one a deep listen because behind the Magical Mystery Tour style BVs, guitar and beat box drive, the bass playing is truly exceptional, to the point where I now need to make a point of seeing at least one of their live performances.
The change of pace in "Broke My Heart" and the crying bow bass at the start give this track highlight status, with the female BVs adding texture. It positively chugs along as Parker's double bass switches effortlessly between bow and finger pluck. "Make A Vow" is the longest song on the album, but it seems to pass too quickly even after several listens, with vocals this time reminding me of Philip Henry - of course, another beat box specialist. The rhythms in this song are really clever and it merited repeated listening, not least because I'm a sucker for deep bow bass strokes.
Without album notes I do not know for sure who the female backing vocalist is but her contribution to "Blue Skies" adds to its lyrical emotion "you are my everything", then the standout "Down" kicks in with more exceptional acoustic guitar work. Martynesque maybe but how many guitarists can you say that about?
"Stand Together" changes the mood with beat box coming to the fore. In truth, it was always going to be tough following "Down" with any track that didn't both change mood and pace, and on that level this really works, but after a few listens I found myself playing this one on its own, over and over. "New Destination" reactivates the faster pace and some of the guitar work is up there again with the very best, the album ending with hints of Middle Eastern rhythms.
This album is pure quality from start to finish. I found myself so transfixed by the quality of the playing that I had to go back and have a dedicated lyric listen. They aren't bad either! You are left with the impression that these two will remain at the top of the folk tree for at least as long as Martyn and Thompson. Wonderful stuff.
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