‘Billycan Ballads’, sub-titled ‘ A Musical Tribute to the Poetry of Joe Charles’, is Kiwi folk music treasure Phil Garland ’s own collection of Joe Charles’ poetry called ‘Blackberry Pie’. Central Otago folklorist Charles was a prolific collector and embellisher of stories heard while working alongside various hard-living Kiwi characters, and Garland has set these tales to music.
Recently vested with a Queen’s Service Medal for services to NZ folk music, Garland has a presence and authority to his playing and singing which elevates him above the many folkies who can sometimes come across a little bit twee. Not trying to do any showing off, just marrying melody with lyrics and letting the stories draw the listener in, is a strategy that pays dividends here. That doesn’t mean it’s all spartan and austere, just that the feel is direct and intimate. Some variety is introduced with guest musicians featuring on certain songs, skillfully done to make this a diverse listen overall. Musician Paul Hoggard also took charge of engineering and mastering. Of interest to anyone who enjoys a good yarn, and/or folk music in the style of Eric Bogle, this is a great addition to the discography of a respected local legend.