nearest Edinburgh gets to the New England coffee-house set-up, this
rotating programme of intimate cellar-bar gigs and late-night open-mike
sessions is the work of the city's Songwriters' Showcase, a year-round
project to promote emergent local singer-songwriters, complemented
at Festival time with a smattering of visiting acts. The stone walled,
bijou surroundings smack agreeably of authenticity and the musical
standard is consistently high.
Allie Fox provides a taster for her album Diving for Pearls with Joe Louis Blues, an intelligently constructed song which gives an account of the Joe Louis story as a wider anti-racist statement, and unites it with a blues atmosphere and hypnotic, African vocal to considerable effect. A stirring and memorable number.
Experienced performer and singer-songwriter Allie, based in the Scottish Borders, here presents her first CD. Her writing has a telling maturity and a sure grasp of structure, with admirably direct expression of often difficult sentiments through a simple but effective poetic language.
Many songs (like Backstreet Girl, The Meaning of Love and the title track) deal with disillusionment tempered with optimism, and display sensitivity and poignancy without a trace of self-pity. Allie has a fine vocal prsence with clear diction and a purity of emotional expressiveness that evokes Sandy Denny (though not imitatively).
Allie's also an accomplished fingerstyle guitarist, with a light, airy touch and sensible restraint. The musical arrangements on this album are accessible and listenable, yet with a vibrant contemporary edge. A subtle freshness and tenderness in the musical settings mirrors those same qualities in the songs.
The idiom is primarily melodic, mellow, contemporary folk, but Moon Above the Rooftops (swamp-cajun meets Soho-blues) and Joe Louis Blues are intriguingly different. Producer Iain McKinna has brought clarity to potentially dense textures with a relaxed poise akin to that on his earlier project "Where the Mystics Swim" for Mike Heron, a connection furthered by the presence of two of the same musicians - Dave Haswell on sundry percussion and John Rutherford on guitar, the latter contributing some impeccable, beautiful solo work.
I Was Wrong has Border Pipes (Jimi MacRae) and a sympathetic,
understated string arrangement by Allie's late brother Malcolm.
In short, if you admire well-crafted meaningful songs, then dive
in and treat yourself to the glistening pearls on this fine CD.
Lovers of Eddie Reader and Angelou call here with confidence, even those of you who recall Shelagh McDonald! Allie Fox is a new voice with bags of potential and acres of singer writer comparisons for cynical scribblers like me to call up. Not that I'd use too many, it'd be unfair and Fox is very much her own woman. The opening Out of the Blue is a rolling, chirpy, acoustic slice of silent love. If all songs are personal experiences then Allie Fox's lived one hell of a life so far and suggests there's more of a roller coaster to come. Backstreet Girl is more obviously a folk song, but some cuts sail just as close to the mainstream, Marguerita being one such where things try to go Latin. More than making up for that one blemish I Was Wrong and The Moon Over the Rooftops with its Cajun air are sure fire and given to the right vocalist could easily assail the charts.
However I'm going to save the biggest thumbs up for Joe Louis Blues, wherein our heroine rocks out over a big fat cheesy organ sound and integrates a Ugandan choir. At this point she's left the smoky back rooms of the folk clubs far behind and distinguishes herself as a writer of tremendous depth and maturity.
There's a bit of us all here if we're honest; that's exactly what Allie Fox realises and makes what we know her own. Rather something, really.
Talking of new faces, Allie Fox and Neil Thomson are two names to look out for. They are both Scottish singer-songwriters and they are both very good. Allie's debut CD is reviewed here by Simon Jones. He was greatly impressed, and nobody has heard more singers than Simon Jones.