16th July 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Fifth Thomas Fraser CD ‘probably the best yet’

Just Call Me Lonesome by Thomas Fraser. CD produced by Da Da 5 at £12.99.

The fifth in the CD releases from archive recordings by Thomas Fraser is probably the best yet. The 25 songs on Just Call Me Lonesome have been lovingly remastered from the original family archive of reel-to-reel tapes (recorded, we are informed, at three and three-quarters inches per second) and presented as if a miniature version of one of the magnetic tape boxes that Thomas used for his home recording.

The label of the CD is also a replical of a magnetic tape reel, bearing Thomas’ name. Complete with a detailed analysis of the tracks by Duncan McLean, this is a beautifully-packaged release.

I use the term “lovingly remastered” deliberately, for the task of remastering was trusted, as before, to recording expert Andrew Rose, who has grown to really love the work of Thomas: “The Thomas Fraser tapes were something I’d actually wanted in my own collection, something I’d listen to.”

This attachment to the songs has gone into the audio restoration and the result is a crisp, bright recording that belies their age and the somewhat primitive nature of the recordings. Having said that, the only real aspect of primitiveness about the originals was the equipment available to Thomas at the time.

What he managed to do with that basic equipment is also remarkable and the work of restoration has largely been about the sound and limitations, allowing the excellent recording techniques of Thomas to come alive and more in line with modern standards. This is not audio manipulation, this is cleaning up something that was already good.

The choice of songs is excellent, ranging from Johnny Bond’s standard I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, through the Fats Domino favourite Blueberry Hill (complete with scat singing) to a fine example of his fiddle playing on The Household Brigade.

There are excellent examples of Thomas’ mandolin playing on Old Grey Mare and The Lovat Scouts, where a young Arthur Pottinger lends support with guitar accompaniment. As Duncan McLean points out in his excellent notes, there was a particular embryo Shetland style of playing guitar where the bass strings were used to imitate the sound of a dance band pianist – that’s what the young Pottinger is doing here.

On the Hank Snow favourite It Don’t Hurt Any More there is a Thomas lead guitar solo, not common on his recordings. What a pity he and Peerie Willie Johnson never recorded together – or did they on a recording still to be discovered? Search your attics now, please!

The highlight for me is the title track Just Call Me Lonesome, also recorded by Jim Reeves and Elvis Presley. Thomas’ version outstrips others in his qualities of sheer passion and simple unencumbered delivery. This is indeed a classic.

Karl Simpson has said that the release of the Thomas Fraser CDs is coming to a conclusion. That surprised me, as one hears stories of many thousands of recordings.

Karl told me: “The thing is I’ve got a list of the songs on an Excel spreadsheet and when I come to the sixth CD I’ll have used 75 of them.

“A lot of those songs are duplicates, some are half songs, some have faults. There are endless traditional reels with me mum playing guitar when she was five. I’m just going through it all and cleaning up all the stuff that’s fit for public consumption.”

Good to know that there’s a least one more to come – and thanks, Karl for putting this music into the public domain.

Jeff Merrifield