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Album review: Trader Horne “Morning Way”

October 14, 2015

Morning Way deserves its reputation as one of the unsung musical treasures of the 1970s; a charming and magical album which still sounds fresh, with much to offer a new generation of listeners.

Click here to read the whole review at Folk Radio UK

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Cover of Trader Horne 'Morning Way'Trader Horne was the name of a short-lived duo consisting of Judy Dyble (vocals, electric autoharp, piano) and Jackie McAuley (vocals, guitar, keyboards and all-round multi-instrumentalist) which came about in early 1969 before splitting up a year later, leaving a recorded legacy of one LP (Morning Way) and two singles to posterity. Over the years, the album has attained an almost legendary status and is considered by many to be one of the lost gems of the 1960s. Needless to say the combination of scarcity and desirability has inflated its secondhand price to the point where, even if you could find a copy for sale, you’d probably need an eye-wateringly large bank loan to even begin bidding for it. While this may be good for the financial sector, the downside is that the actual music – remember that? The reason why we buy records? – has, despite one CD reissue in 2008, remained largely unheard by a wider audience.

Thankfully, and to tie in with Trader Horne’s 45th anniversary, the good people at Earth Recordings have remastered and reissued Morning Way as both a limited edition red vinyl LP (including a high quality digital download) and an unlimited CD. The digital formats also include the band’s second and final single from 1970 as two bonus tracks so – finally! – we all get a chance to hear this long-lost treasure.

In terms of the recording techniques used, the first track ‘Jenny May’ sets the standard for much of the album; there’s a lot of sonic experimentation going on, notably with the way the vocals are set up: often, Jackie’s voice is panned hard into the right-hand channel and Judy’s to the left. Combined with Jackie’s fast, fingerstyle acoustic guitars and various instruments appearing for a few bars before disappearing, the overall effect is initially quite disconcerting, but as the record progresses and one’s ears adjust, it all starts to seem quite natural. The production and recording values are, for the most part, firmly rooted in the joyous experimentation of late 1960s psychedelic folk yet suit the song well.

Another distinct feature of the album is the use of short instrumentals to link the songs and, while the musical themes often seem to have little to do with the songs, they do add a quirky charm. The pieces on side one of the LP featured Jackie accompanying himself on celeste, flute and glockenspiel, while on side two the links were played by Judy on piano.

The melody from the Christmas carol ‘We Three Kings’ played on flutes and recorders comes and goes throughout ‘Children Of Oare’; with its descending riff and catchy hook it brings out a cheery pop sensibility. The lyrics, like much of the album, are something of a challenge to decipher but, in fairness, you could say this about a lot of music of the time. There’s some nice woodwind at the bridge (Ray Elliot?), ahead of a field recording of crashing waves before the vocals return; Jackie’s voice seems to have had an alarming amount of flanging applied, adding to the maritime theme even as you check your speakers are working properly.

‘Three Rings For Eleven Kings’ is a short instrumental comprising harpsichord and overdubbed flutes as it modulates effortlessly between keys to create an effect I can only describe as blissed-out, medieval psychedelia.

The lyrics of ‘Growing Man’ tell the tale of a rambling man (sung by Jackie) coming home to his waiting partner (sung by Judy) and in that respect draws on one of the more traditional folk themes which inform the record. Judy’s singing is absolutely faultless and makes one wonder what might have been, had Fairport Convention decided against replacing her with Sandy Denny. Add in some unexpected but well-placed string arrangements and a strong pop sensibility and you have one of the album’s highlights.

Although credited as a traditional song arranged by Ray, ‘Down And Out Blues’ may well be better known as a reworking of the Prohibition era blues standard ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’, written by Jimmy Cox in 1923 and covered by a multitude of artists including Bessie Smith, Lead Belly, Nina Simone, Eric Clapton and even Jackie’s earlier band, Them. Trader Horne’s version is a nicely relaxed country blues which sticks to a relatively unfussy arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar, Judy’s honeyed voice front-and-centre – comfortably in a lower register than usual – and, as the song progresses, Ray’s flute solo which, on paper, shouldn’t work but does, before Jackie’s boogie-woogie piano joins in to top off the whole thing perfectly.

‘The Mixed Up Kind’ is a midtempo folk-rock stomper with Judy’s crystal voice high above a guitar and organ arrangement with some upfront harpsichord flourishes, carried by John Godfrey’s patient bass and Andy White’s steady drums. Again the 1960s psych-folk vibe runs through the song’s veins but the sugar-sweet harmonies on the chorus are a delight. It’s followed by the Latin-influenced ‘Better Than Today’ which would fit quite happily in a contemporary lounge music compilation. The chorus harmonies are pure 1960s folk revival while the flute solo makes you want to fling open the windows before sashaying down to Copacabana beach to work on your tan.

Lushly decorated with some lovely string arrangements, Ray’s sublime bass clarinet and another happily unhinged production, ‘In My Loneliness’ nevertheless gives Judy a chance to shine – which she does, with a quiet confidence. If this track is an example of what she was capable of as a singer, I once again find myself wondering why she and the Fairports came to such an abrupt parting of the ways: she’s absolutely on point on this little gem of a tune.

Opening the second side of the vinyl LP and, as befits what was the A-side of the lead single from the album, ‘Sheena’ is unashamedly poppy, displaying a strong influence by the California sound so much in vogue in the late 1960s and is presented without the more idiosyncratic instrumentation found elsewhere. The downtempo ‘The Mutant’ returns to the more experimental side of things with Jackie’s voice panned hard left and a long way back in the mix although the fingerstyle acoustic guitar and breathy flutes sit well together.

The album’s title track ‘Morning Way’ was selected as the B-side to ‘Sheena’ and opens with some tinkly reverbed electric piano sounds which would make a great sample for an ambient techno remix, before a plucked acoustic guitar arrives, followed by a descending riff driven by Judy’s piano. Jackie and Judy’s vocals again take full advantage of the stereo image in a very trippy lyric; Judy’s multitracked harmonies are, as ever, a joy to hear. This is the only song on the album credited solely to Judy as writer and is followed by ‘Velvet To Atone’, which is credited jointly to Judy and Steamhammer guitarist Martin Quittenton. It’s a solo piece – just Judy accompanying herself on piano and is a gently rippling composition which sounds as fresh as a daisy.

‘Luke That Never Was’ fades in on a slow, church organ drone with several multitracked Judys floating around the stereo image (Jackie, as usual, firmly in the right channel). I was going to say that the strummed acoustic guitar places the song firmly in the folk tradition, but on reflection, with lyrics which refer to “the toadstool people”, perhaps it’s more psychedelic-folk than trad. This is the last track on the second side of the vinyl and makes a nice, if slightly wide-eyed, way to end it but the CD and digital downloads include two further tracks, ‘Here Comes The Rain’ and ‘Goodbye Mercy Kelly’. These correspond to the non-album A and B-sides of the duo’s second single which was released shortly after the LP’s release. ‘Here Comes The Rain’ is a nice slice of summery pop with some gorgeous harmonies while ‘Goodbye Mercy Kelly’ is mellow 1960s psychedelia at its most delicate and it occurs to me that the two songs together would make a great reissue for the next Record Store Day.

On balance, I’d say that Morning Way deserves its reputation as one of the unsung musical treasures of the 1970s; although stylistically it’s very much ‘of its time’ there’s more than enough substance to carry some of its more ‘out there’ moments and the net result is a charming and magical album which still sounds fresh, with much to offer a new generation of listeners.

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (14 October 2015)

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