A few years ago I was introduced to the wonderful Judge Smith, who will always be regarded highly by progheads for being co-founder of Van der Graaf Generator. Since then we have kept in touch and here we have his latest studio album, which somewhat remarkably is his seventeenth. As well as being a well-known musician and songwriter in his own right, he has also collaborated with many others, especially with those in the theatre, and this is how he and pianist Robert Pettigrew first started working together more than 45 years ago. This album feels as if it has come to us from the theatre as it very much has that musical style, with Judge providing his wonderful insights and way of looking at the world being supported Robert’s delightful and complex piano accompaniment and backing vocals.

The rear cover shows Robert sat at a grand piano and Judge on a high stool in the curve, and one can certainly imagine them on a stage performing just like that. Judge still has a powerful voice (remember, VDGG were created by Peter Hammill and Judge all the way back in 1967!) while Robert has a way of providing complex and thrilling accompaniments which are perfectly suited to the vocals and builds on them while never detracting or drawing attention away. One can clearly imagine the two of them sat there next to each other, performing these songs live as opposed to undertaking multiple takes as it has that vitality and life which comes from such performances.

The lyrics portray Judge’s wonderful insights and somewhat cynical view on the world and is English in every sense. The production has been kept somewhat deliberately dry, which is a nice change from the over-reverberated style we have become used to, while the dreaded autotune is nowhere to be found. The result is something which feels honest, never designed for the charts or the fickles of fashion but instead is from the heart and the listener feels a direct connection as a result. Well worth investigation.
8/10 by Kev Rowland