CD review

Joe Stilgoe – ‘Stilgoe in the Shed’

Joe Stilgoe – Stilgoe in the Shed
(Silva Screen, SILCD1630. Review by Bob Blizzard)

Joe Stilgoe was the first UK jazz musician to respond to the coronavirus lockdown by streaming live performance (from day one) from home – in his case from his shed!

I’m sure I was not the only one for whom Joe’s daily gig helped keep me alive spiritually, especially in those early days that seemed so dark. Now, some of the best songs from those sessions have been captured on an album, which as it so happens was recorded in not just any shed, but The Shed, otherwise known as the high-quality recording studio of Grammy-nominated James McMillan.

It’s a well chosen collection of 15 songs that form one of Joe’s best albums to date. Familiar songs, old and not so old, really do make you feel better when you’re down. So, from Joni’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, through Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happier than the Morning Sun’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’, to 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Goin On?’; along with the ‘Mountain Greenery’ of Rogers and Hart and Cole Porter’s ‘Still of the Night’, Joe’s performances from his humble ‘studio’ allow you to focus on the sheer quality, freshness, range and tenderness of his voice.

You can also appreciate his fine touch on the keys, especially in an instrumental version of ‘How Are Things in Glocca Mora?’ There are some fine intros and solos too, particularly on ‘Wichita Lineman’, while a strong piano drives ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.

He shows his versatility in up tempo numbers like Fats Waller’s ‘You Meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams’ (or in your shed, as Joe jests). And it’s remarkable how one man and a piano create the big sound of ‘What’s Goin On?’.

In amongst all this is Joe’s own award winning composition, the nostalgic ‘Seaside’, popularised by another regular lockdown live streamer, Liane Carroll, on her album of that name.

This album does what the shed concerts did – pick up the melancholy and loneliness of the lockdown, and take you out of yourself to a better place. Beginning with Jimmy Webb’s solitary ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ending with Stephen Sondheim’s ‘No One Is Alone’, the whole album does this beautifully. It brings back memories of those performances and will surely stand as a lasting memento of these strange times.

I have long believed it important for some jazz musicians to make jazz more accessible to more people, to draw in new audiences and take them on a journey they might not otherwise make. Joe Stilgoe does that here. Perhaps playing from a humble shed helps even more!

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