Jim Causley is not the first artist to arrange Charles Causley’s poems to music. Charles’s piano stool was filled with published arrangements, and there have been several singers who have set his poems to folk tunes, most notably Alex Atterson and Brenda Wooton. But Jim’s efforts have a special poignancy, and not just because he is a distant relation. The songs on Cyprus Well were recorded in Charles’s old house over a five day period in February 2013, just before the house was emptied in anticipation of building works which will change it forever. The song list contains several titles which have some direct relevance to the house: ‘On All Souls’ Day’, ‘Angel Hill’, ‘Sibard’s Well’ and ‘Night Before a Journey’ all pay homage to a home that provided years of comfort and inspiration.
The arrangements are sympathetic and beautiful. The music has a downhome feel to it and gives the whole CD a charm and honesty which reflects Charles’s words. Ceri Jones provides lovely understated accompaniments on harp and trombone; Neil Davey and Hilary Coleman give ‘My Young Man’s a Cornishman’ a street band feeling and the song ‘Trusham’ is given an atmospheric intro by Carl Allerfeldt’s violin.
Anyone who has heard Jim sing will know that CDs do not really do justice to his live performances, but the opening track of this collection, ‘On All Souls’ Day’, will make you sit up and anticipate the rest of the collection. His rich baritone voice delivers beauty and emotion in equal measure. The vocals of Julie Murphy provide a wonderful contrast on ‘A Song of Truth’ and stunning harmony on ‘Who?’
The choice of poems to arrange shows an intimate knowledge of Charles’s works and of his personality. The words, with the exception of ‘My Young Man’s A Cornishman’, and to a lesser extent, ‘Eagle One, Eagle Tw’o are of a serious nature and are poems of the highest calibre. This CD is far more than just respect to a revered poet; it actually augments the words and shows that Jim has a deep understanding of Charles’s immense talent at giving poetry freedom of movement.
Perhaps in the future there will be a follow-up of arrangements of Charles Causley’s children’s poems. Until then, this CD can only enhance the reputations of both Causleys.
You can listen to Jim sing ‘My Young Man’s a Cornishman’ here.
Reviewed by Malcolm Wright.