When Bryn Haworth released Inside Out, his first collection of music for inmates, it was mainly a collection of his existing tracks that were prisoner-friendly.
12 Tracks / 45 minutes
This time, he has virtually started from scratch in compiling a set of songs that cover the world of the prisoner – or anyone who wants to think about how Jesus can make a difference when “running on empty, dry as a bone.”
You can easily imagine this as a setlist for a jail gig. In the opening songs, he sets the scene: you have unwanted time on your hands, you want to change things and you need help; then there’s a slide instrumental version of the old Elvis song “Crying in the Chapel” (“I’ve seen a lot of tears in prison chapels,” he notes). A verse from the title track puts all this succinctly:
“I’m in a time out that I didn’t choose,
I’m putting my life under review,
I need a clean break from my so-called friends,
Maybe my bad luck will come to an end.
I’ve been thinking about my past and what I need to do
To bring some good out of these blues.”
But this is just the start of the journey and Haworth wants to take his listeners somewhere special. In his humble, honest and unpretentious way, he points his listeners to Jesus’ love:
“I think it’s wonderful that your thoughts to me
Are more than all the sand of the sea.
To know that you’re for me and not against me
I still can’t take it all in.”
The disc’s musical balance is becoming a format for the adroit guitarist: bookend the set with a few meaty numbers (Booker T. Jones might feel that he deserves some “Green Onions” royalties for “Help Me”); a couple of classic bluesy shuffles; two instrumentals – one a hymn, one not; some acoustic twelve bar blues, a revamped hymn, some praise, and a traditional piece given Haworth’s distinctive treatment – here, a beautifully haunting “Motherless Child.” The only old track I can spot is “Psalm 40” and that is a welcome repeat.
This time he has brought in a couple of gospel singers for a discreet Blind Boys of Alabama-style of backing on two tracks, including the perfectly-judged “Walking with the Master” (or “Trimmed and Burning” as we normally know it) where some early lines are just Haworth playing in unison with his single guitar line against some finger-clicks. Like much of this collection, it’s quietly striking.
There are tracks here that pick up sounds from virtually all his career: the electric guitar from his early live gigs, the elegant acoustic work that has been steadily improving, a touch of mandolin, that inimitable slide sound and his similarly distinctive warm vocal.
While there are not quite any stand-out contenders for the next best-of collection – tracks like the gorgeous, long slow blues of “Wash Me Clean” or his gritty live account of “I Serve a Risen Saviour,” which made the last compilation – this album is immensely strong on solid, enjoyable, relevant and beautifully played pieces. There are no duds here and several works have little tweaks that you don’t expect; things that a life-long musician knows to put in, like the last three lines of the solo instrumental of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” which have a slightly bittersweet twist that reflects the crucifixion.
My only complaint really is that I’d like more of the same – an extra acoustic instrumental here, a longer solo there. But if we only have this to keep us going for another four years, it will do very nicely, thank you. I once wrote elsewhere that “Haworth knows his strengths—riffs, blues, intricate instrumentals and adroit slide work. He plays to them.” This time he plays to them more consistently.