MIRIAM BACKHOUSE – Gypsy Without A Road

Miriam Backhouse recorded just the one album in 1977, and it has since gained something of a reputation in folk circles. She accompanied herself on guitar when performing live, but for this album the songs are fleshed out with keyboards and bass, and the result is a full, clean sound which enhances the songs. The material is a mixture of traditional songs and originals penned especially for her, and they blend together so well that you often cannot tell one from the other. ‘Far Away Tom’ is a lovely opener, and the addition of harmony vocals and strings adds to the haunting quality of the song. The vocals are strong and clear, as on all the songs, and it is a fine way to start the album. ‘The Widow’ is an a capella piece which highlights Backhouse’s pure vocal, and ‘The Farmers Have All Gone East’ is one of the highlights of the album, with the mellotron backing filling the song with flutes and sustained chords, and the telling lyric evoking the poverty of farmers in a bygone (and unfortunately current) age. ‘Long Lankin’ is given a reverential treatment with just voice and guitar, which really does not prepare you in any way for the following ‘Nasty Spider’. This is the old children’s song, sung in a quite irritatingly childish voice, and while I can see that it would be a crowd pleaser live it does break the flow of the album quite alarmingly. ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ is a jaunty acoustic piece which does something to get the mood back, but it is down to a mournful ‘John Riley’ and a superb take on ‘Keys Of Canterbury’ to bring the album back on track. That just leaves the title track, being a melodic folk offering with a lyric evoking the travelers of the open road, and a memorable tune with which to close the album. It is all over far too quickly, as it is actually quite a short album, but for the most part the quality of the music contained on it is first rate, and it is well worth trying to track down one of the elusive CD re-issues which have appeared over the years.