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Album Review Stirring songs of love, madness and obsession

Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds
Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me
(Dusty Willow)

NAOMI BEDFORD wrote and sang Orbital’s hit Funny Break while Paul Simmonds is one of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, both bands highly politicised and highly successful.

Now, as in private life, they’ve teamed up and what a combination they prove to be. They give the modern ballad an enviable depth in musical texture, as well as thoughtful lyrics with a distinct literary quality.

As Simmonds sings on Misty, Golden Road, they've “Gathered around all good friends/Fiery women and gentle men” who, on a variety of instruments, weave harmonious melodies that soar, as if airborne, in the absence of anchoring percussion.

Andy Summer, formerly of The Police, Justin Curry of Del Amitri, legendary folk guitarist Ben Walker and fiddler extraordinaire Elly Wyatt, among others, expertly and lovingly lend a hand.

From the first chords of We’ve Hardly Started Yet the class of musicianship, applied to thoughtful and precise arrangements, hooks you in.

The subtle shifts in tempo and clarity of sound eloquently support each singer. Bedford’s voice is extraordinary, not just in its range but most of all in its interpretative quality, exquisite phrasing and emotional charge.

It may sound effortless but in making a despairing case for the starving, impoverished single mother on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s denunciatory ballad Young Parson Richards, the impact is heart-rending and, in ringing uncomfortably true in the Tory Britain of foodbanks, unsettling.

Simmonds, meanwhile, mercilessly ridicules the ruthless arriviste in The Ballad of a Self-Made Man: “People get bored, people like a cause/put the two together, you get wars/I’m on hand to facilitate.” For Simmonds, God is “Just like me, he’s a self-made man.”

Bedford returns to the theme of a woman abandoned to despair and tragedy on the traditional ballad The Cruel Mother, sung with a delicate compassion, and then goes into attack mode on I Hate You, a delicious denunciation of a relationship at its acrimonious ending: “You’re some Judas, wolf, renegade/like some far dark star you cast only shade/And I hate you,” sings Bedford, sublimely.

Ramshackle House (Simmonds), Little Stranger (Curry) and Without Joy (Bedford) — to name but a few — are all earworms and, were this a gig, they'd get a standing ovation.

Highly recommended.

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