Ralph McTell

The Boy with a Note

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The BBC originally commissioned and broadcast this extremely ambitious project that recounted the life and times of poet Dylan Thomas through a series of heavily orchestrated songs and narrative pieces, and it was obviously a labor of love for Ralph McTell, who re-recorded the sequence for this album version of The Boy with a Note. The detail involved is pretty amazing, and Thomas' lifelong struggles with the angels and demons of creativity make the story well worth the telling, if only for the cautionary tale it presents of the devastating effects of alcoholism. Unfortunately, as the poet Robinson Jeffers once said, it is hard to set fire to too much thought, and to amend that statement, it is even harder to sing about it. That's the problem here. It all sounds so ponderous in the end, which is a shame, since buried in all the scaffolding required to keep The Boy with a Note afloat are a couple of wonderful songs, the delicately nuanced "Summer Girls" and the balanced, wise "Conundrum of Time (Shouldn't You Be Dancing)." McTell has always been a very literate songwriter, sounding a bit like a British version of Gordon Lightfoot, but here he simply oversteps the weight that his songs can carry. Again, it's hard to set fire to too much thought, and when your subject is Dylan Thomas, who did a pretty good job setting forth his own cautionary tales, it gets even harder. "Summer Girls" is a beautiful song, though, and may well be worth the price of admission.

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