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Review: Herding Cats: Guide Cats for the Blind Volume 5

Various Artists
Herding Cats: Guide Cats for the Blind Volume 5
[Osmosys (2011)]

Les Barker, a highly prolific and often zany British/Welsh poet, parodist, and songwriter with approximately 80 books and two dozen albums to his credit, once wrote a poem called “Guide Cats for the Blind.” The poem was picked up by a British association that runs a program called EyeT4all, whose goal is to make computers accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. The poem was used as the title track of a fund-raising 2-CD album featuring artists from the worlds of folk music as well as well known British personalities, mostly broadcasters and actors. The project has been a very successful fund-raising tool for the cause and the series is now up to its fifth installment. The tracks on Herding Cats vary in appeal, as one would expect with a 2-CD, 33-track album. For example, Barker’s “Have You Got Any News of the Iceberg?” is narrated here by Nonny James, but her version isn’t nearly as funny as Barker’s original reading.

Twelve songs are scattered throughout the album, the other twenty-one tracks being spoken word. Les Barker himself narrates an amusing poem called “The Inflatable Boy,” while The Mrs. Ackroyd Band, Barker’s band, performs two tracks, namely “O Sole Mio”, the Italian classic given a new twist (as in “this flatfish is mine”) and a catchy ditty called “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwlllantisiliogogogoch.” (No, my cat didn’t just saunter onto the keyboard. That is the actual title.) Some of the other songs are performed by folk singer John Connolly, June Tabor, Canadian folk singer Eileen McGann, Ken Galipeau (an American who has recorded a whole album of Barker songs), and John Tams with Coope, Boyes and Simpson. A ravaged-voiced John Scott Cree sings a blues spoof called “Rolls Royce Blues” that ends with “Lord the petrol tank is always empty and the ashtray sure is full.” After releasing five Guide Cats for the Blind albums with a total of 164 tracks, the next logical step for the producers of this series would be to release a “Best of” compilation.

—Paul-Emile Comeau (Comeauville, NS, Canada)

[editor’s note: U.S. residents interested in this record might have a hard time finding it. Fortunately, the internet and postal services exist, and the BCAB sells it on their website: http://www.bcab.org.uk/guide-cats-cds.]

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