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Tom Fairnie is an Edinburgh-based poet/singer/songwriter with a rich background of performance and recorded collaborations with other poets and musicians. There are a couple of previous “solo” recordings but these two new discs demonstrate that the man is an inate collaborator – there must be about thirty other musicians and singers credited with an appearance at some point in the proceedings, though the core sound throughout remains Tom himself and his acoustic guitar. He says that he aims for uncluttered arrangements and that is indeed the case – in fact his music is at its most effective when his bruised, Scots Kenny Rogers voice is set against his own beautifully elegant folk guitar style.
The songs collected on these two discs go back over the last ten years or so and combine several strands of his work. First and foremost, he’s a poet, in love with words and imagery. He’s a romantic at root and his style seems to reach back to the great nineteenth century poets and to Burns, combining the pithiness of the latter with the yearning romanticism of the former though all the while his eye is on the world around him in the here and now. Secondly, he’s in love with country music and with American self-mythology. Songs about Hank Williams and Bonnie and Clyde are not the only occasions when his imagination drifts across the Atlantic to put himself in a desert landscape or in a border bar, drowning his romantic sorrows in tequila. Thirdly, he enjoys wandering (at least in his imagination) around European scenes of culture and sophistication and, fourthly, he enjoys referencing the music and the writers that have informed his life in performance, from traditional British folk song to You Are My Sunshine. In other words, there is a richness of material here that makes for some enjoyable listening as you let your imagination follow the paths he leads you down. It’s strange, however, that two albums of frequently beautiful, gentle music lack the killer melody that would hook you in – both sets can drift by without a single song demanding to be heard again immediately. A song like I Ain’t Goin’ Dancin’ No More on As Eden Lay in Darkness is as close as he gets to a catchy little number, but it’s left deliberately underpowered, the emphasis remaining on the sadness in the lyric rather than the bounce in the tune.
The beautifully produced covers for these discs incorporate booklets that feature poems from Tom’s good friend and colleague, Bob Shields – poems that sit as companion pieces alongside the lyrics to each song. It’s a clear indication of where the heart of this work lies.
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