Breath .. is a collaborative effort between Big Big Train’s David Longdon and ex-Fairport Convention and Trader Horne chanteuse Judy Dyble who happily, in recent years, emerged from what she referred to as her ‘thirty year career break’ to resume her singing career again, joining the Fairports at Cropredy for the band’s thirtieth anniversary show – and since then she hasn’t looked back, having contributed to albums by old friends Ashley Hutchins and Richard Thompson, amongst others, and also releasing albums under her own name. The new album consists of seven original pieces, though nine were recorded and, as Longdon says, the two others will be released at some later date. Very sadly, Judy left us in mid-July after having bravely battled through a lengthy illness whilst writing and recording what is now her swansong album. But what an album she’s left us with. Despite her time away from music, her voice is still as good as ever and, all through her illness, her passion for the project never wavered and she was able to offer some of the most moving performances of her career.
The songs on this album are occasionally haunting and quite often beautifully fragile. Dyble wrote all the lyrics, mainly written from the female perspective, and with more than a touch of sadness about some of them, but always from the point of view of being optimistic and a desire to know what comes next. Longdon wrote all the music, played many of the instruments involved and has put Dyble’s words to some quite touching and beautiful melodies. Several of the supporting musicians on the album have played or performed with Longdon previously, and as such they’re able to bring out what he’s trying to achieve, and all through the album there are some quite exquisite instrumental passages from a variety of instruments which enhance the songs considerably.
The album opens with Astrologers, which tells the story of a woman continually being told by the planets she’ll meet her dream man soon, but she’s stopped believing because it never happens… ‘Don’t you know I see through your lies?’. Obedience begins with a Fairport style violin intro, and the voices of Dyble and Longdon then blend nicely together as they sing alternate lines to each other. The very gorgeous Tidying Away The Pieces is the heartachingly sad story of someone dealing with conflicting emotions as they attempt to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, set to one of Longdon’s more beautiful melodies. Similarly with Whisper, about a young girl who nobody seems to notice… ‘they talk over her head and ignore where she sits’. Heartwashing, with its jazzy intro, is a short piece about looking ahead to the future after a bad experience (‘What will be the next big adventure, should there be such a thing’). Here, Dyble speaks her lines with Longdon singing in response.
Do you know what lies Between A Breath And A Breath? It’s ‘where the magic lies’ and ‘where the fairy children sing their song’. Again the duo take turns singing alternate lines in a delightful song with nice shimmering melody lines running behind. This is a continuation of the work Dyble and Longdon did on Big Big Train’s Grimspound album. This record’s tour de force, however, is France, a twelve minute piece which is almost two songs in one, with the first part optimistic and joyous, the short Mirror Ball waltz in the middle, and a second part less so, with images of war and lives having to be rebuilt.
If there’s one word which sums up this release, it’s ‘class.’ The quality of the songs on this album is quite exceptional and, as swansongs go, this is as good as it gets – and it’s a fitting tribute to a fine singer who’ll be much missed.