Artist: Bryn Haworth
Label: Bella Music
Time: 16 tracks / 60 mins
Haworth has had his work compiled before, but these selections were diluted by conservative Christian labels, based more on lyrical content than song quality. At last, he has had his own say and this collection is exceptionally strong.
Haworth has been visiting prisons for some years and half of his concert work is now inside them. Several songs on One-Way Ticket, the sister-album to this, have been inspired by conversations with inmates and seven of these make it onto Inside Out, which has been compiled with prisoners in mind. That in itself means two things: the quality has to be good enough to cut it with this kind of captured audience; and the songs have to be relevant and real enough to appeal to hardened hearers, who have had a rough time of it. This selection works in both cases.
At one time, Haworth was considered the UK’s best slide player, a British Lowell George, who did sessions for Joan Armatrading, Cliff Richard and Chris Rea. The quality extends to his bands, made up from fellow musos, who have played with the greats (three of his rhythm players have backed Eric Clapton, and at least a couple have played with ex-Beatles; while others have worked with more recent British chart successes like Take That or Duffy). His own sound is highly distinctive, whether his gently accented vocals or the light, yet full and resonant timbre of his guitar, mandolin and harpolek.
Faith is life-changing here. Since their conversions at a tent crusade, when Haworth and his wife mistakenly thought they were going to a circus, God’s difference has revolutionised their lives. So he can confidently sing of the love that keeps following everyone and of the power of God to make an impact. Songs like “Wash Me Clean” and “New ID” are plainly going to be relevant to people who are all too aware of the need for change in their lives. The rich-toned title track is ideal for prisoners for more reason than just the ‘inside’ reference.
Haworth’s imprint is instantly recognizable (I’m sure I have caught his guitar work on some otherwise anonymous worship recordings) and his style is well gauged: gentle enough for mass appreciation, but instinctively and authentically rock-oriented enough to appeal to those who love music with guts. With nearly twenty releases behind him to choose from, it is hardly surprising that this collection has only half a dud (“God is My Strength”) making it essentially full of excellence. So how to pick out highlights?
For a strings specialist, there are surprisingly few solos here, so the relaxed breaks in the gorgeous “Wash Me Clean” and the sensitive picking of “How Great Thou Art” (one of only two instrumentals) make these precious. I always find Haworth’s sense of worship so freeing, because there is no bad musicianship or cheesy style to get in the way. So when he sings accompanied only by himself (“I Serve a Risen Saviour,” “Trust in Me”), it connects all the more powerfully.
That said, I often find the harder pieces even more buoyant and worshipful. On the introduction to the only live song, “I Serve a Risen Saviour,” Haworth remarks, “This is an old hymn from the ‘30s – I don’t think they played it this way!” He’s right, they didn’t do dirty blues back then, at least not in church, but they missed out. His live work has always had a rockier edge and this one is also really welcome.
Other highlights include tracks that were recorded before Christian acts decided to stop writing about life and concentrate on worship. So “Egypt” is about not being enslaved by temptations and legalism, and the complementary other track from 1980’s The Gap, “I Can Do All Things” covers what the title suggests.
Wise, scriptural, worshipful and faith-building; a collection where expectant faith touches both earth and heaven; and a set full of top-notch playing, this is a delight virtually from beginning to end.