Review Archive

‘A Toad in the Hand’ from George Stevens -absorbing, intriguing and captivating

(October 18, 2012)

It’s a strange phenomenon but when I first listened to ‘A Toad in the Hand’ from George Stevens a a toad in the handrandom thought emerged – was I hearing a ‘Tubular Bells’  concept for folk music. Now it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will think that way - put it down to the quirks of my mind. That aside, the fact remains that you should definitely invest some your hard-earned beer tokens in a copy of ‘A Toad in the Hand’ because it is an absorbing, intriguing and stunningly captivating concept.

‘A Toad in the Hand’ is built around 12 original compositions that reflect traditional influences from the British Isles, Western and Eastern Europe. There’s also a slice of innovation that adds another charismatic facet. It’s an encompassing spread of styles and genres that lead the listener into a multi-layered musical gallery filled with entrancing portraits. Possibly best known for his consummate skill as a specialist instrument maker ( George has made his musical mark with various bands playing rock to jazz, reggae to folk, early and world music -  and now finally, with ‘A Toad in the Hand’ releases an album that, along with a couple of collaborations, proves his capability as a composer.

A self-confessed rhythm addict, George has produced an album that weaves a web of irresistible rhythmic spells. There’s the opening punch of ‘Age of Empires’ with its driving bouzouki, the lingering, eerie tones of solo pipes on ‘Lament for the Lost’ and ‘Polesworth Abbey’ and the perfectly placed Hummelchen pipes on ‘Gallows Birds’ while a wraithlike violin helps entwine ‘Flint and Steel’. The heavily Eastern-toned ‘Sasha’s Wedding’ sparkles across a pounding marching theme, as does the aptly named ‘Mayfly’ that impulsively dances its strings around a drum and acoustic bass foundation. Finally, for me its sheer power and presence make ‘Shadows and Dust’ the standout tune; it moves every fibre of your being.

Have I used too many adjectives to describe this album? Not possible, there’s so much to express. And still that Tubular Bells impression remains. Perhaps this will be just as successful – I hope so. You can buy a CD of ‘A Toad in the Hand’ from GPJ Records at George's website and also as a download at iTunes and Spotify among others.

On ‘A Toad in the Hand’ George Stevens (border pipes, flat-backed bouzouki, acoustic bass, Hummelchen pipes, keyboard, percussion, voice) is joined across various tracks by Jennifer Burnet (violin) Kevin Burt (beats, loops, keyboard) Mick Mepham (acoustic and electric guitar) and Simon Raine (hurdy-gurdy). All the instruments are played in real time except the loops on track 12.

Reviewer: Tim Carroll

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