Review: Bill Stewart – On Top Of The World

Posted on: Sunday, May 29, 2011

“On Top Of The World”
(The Road Goes On Forever Records – RGF/BSCD 06)

Hailing from Jarrow on Tyneside, singer/songwriter/guitarist Bill Stewart, it’s fair to say, is probably little known outside his native North East, but has been a semi-professional musician for many years with a leaning to folk blues and country, but also as evident here has a keen eye on the tough times of the past in his beloved Northumberland.

His eight original tunes here stand up very well in the company of choice covers from the likes of Mark Knopfler, Charlie Rich and Robert Johnson on this enchanting little gem of an album, which highlights his lovely clear voice and accomplished guitar skills – he is a fine picker and also an excellent slide player.

“On Top Of The World” was recorded in the North East at Studio One in Houghton-le-Spring in County Durham and is a lovely sounding release too, which gets underway with a slide-driven take on the old blues chestnut of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”, leading to the release’s first highlight, Stewart’s own “Who Do You Think You Are?”, an ode to the extremely hard life of miners and their families in the early 1900s and the misery they had to suffer.

Charlie Rich’s quite gorgeous “Feel Like Going Home” has some exquisite guitar work and superb vocal – a truly great  song – followed by the original “Give Me All The Love You Can”, a tale of deceit and beyond. One of the region’s most famous sons, Mark Knopfler, is covered with his “Your Own Sweet Way”. Bill Stewart shows off his guitar prowess again on the self-penned instrumental “Forgotten Memories” . . . written about his memories of his own children when they were young.

He takes on Robert Johnson with a rousing “Crossroads”, before two more highlights – “The Man In His Pin-Stripe Suit”, to quote him, which depicts “the plight of the working classes at the hands of the greedy bureaucrats”, and the hard-hitting account of the decline of the shipbuilding industry on the River Tyne, “10,000 Men”, in which Stewart speaks from experience as a former worker at Swan Hunter’s yard.

The sweet “A Good Night Tonight (Now That You’re Here)” is just beautiful, to these ears recalling classic Alan Hull and Lindisfarne, and tells of emotions at the start of a relationship, in this case when he met his wife-to-be. However the ‘jewel-in-the-crown’ is the penultimate “Northumberland” . . . as he says his “anthem to England’s hidden gem”, his home county, and inspired by travelling and playing all over the county and its scenery and many castles . . . with more splendid guitar work and vocal from the heart!


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