Bear with me while I get the nostalgia bit out of the way. There was a time in the 1970s when singer-songwriters from the folk world could become massive, making singles and albums that charted and selling out 2,000 capacity venues armed with only an acoustic guitar (usually a Gibson or a Martin at that time). It wasn’t just the odd one or two either; there was strength in depth as well. We had Ralph McTell, John Martyn and Richard Thompson (among others) in the UK and North American continent had Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor and Neil Young (when he wasn’t squeezing squalls of feedback out of Old Black. Rupert Wates would have fitted in perfectly with his virtuoso finger-style guitar and mix of traditional and modern lyrical themes. Skip forward five decades and folk music’s a minority interest again. Which is why I have such a great admiration for artists like Rupert Wates. He does what he does in the knowledge that it’s a labour of love and that’s pretty common in certain areas of today’s music business.

The eleven songs on ‘Elegies’ are love songs but, as the title implies, they all convey a sense of loss as well. The musical stylings reflect the lyrical content of the songs; the more traditional folk-style lyrics tend to have fairly conventional guitar stylings while the contemporary lyrics lean towards a jazz feel, particularly when Trifon Dimitrov joins the party on double bass. Of the traditional lyrical songs, ‘Guinevere’ is based on ‘Malory’s ‘Morte d’ Arthur’ with hints of the Robin Hood legend, ‘Lady of the Glades’ is based on Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and ‘Across the Water’ derives from Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shalott’. ‘The Storm’, with its high-register vocal, is inspired by Poe and Coleridge and builds and darkens musically to reflect the ominous oncoming weather. ‘The Man Who Worked in Clay and Stone’ has a more modern feel and arrangement underpinning a message that you should be careful what you wish for because ultimate beauty is ultimately sterile.

Of the more modern lyrics, ‘Cathy’ is a love song with a smoky jazz club feel enhanced by the double bass, and ‘We’ll Go Dancing’ is a love song set in Paris that also hints at the speakeasy era of the 1930s in the States. It’s a mark of Rupert Wates’ craft that he’s able to create such a variety of moods with one or two guitars, occasional double bass and vocal.

‘Elegies’ is Rupert Wates’ twelfth album and it demonstrates perfectly why he’s an award-winning songwriter and performer. He’s a genuine virtuoso acoustic guitar player who plays with the kind of subtlety that you won’t be hearing on mainstream radio any time soon. If you’re in the UK and you want to see and hear him play, he has one UK date at The Cabbage Patch in Twickenham on Sunday October 1st.

There’s a play on words in the title of this album; you can exchange the word “people” for “folk” and the literal meaning doesn’t change, but some new layers are added. Rupert Wates recognises this in a press release quote where he describes folk music as: “music of the people, by the people, for the people”. The album is a return to Rupert’s English folk roots, a celebration of his supporters and a celebration of the themes and traditional tales that run through the history of the genre. The celebration takes the form of a set of songs created in the folk idiom, using familiar themes and delivered with acoustic guitar backing and very little else apart from a bit of fiddle and some additional vocals.

The stripped-back delivery affects the structure of the songs as well. The guitar playing, accomplished as it is, isn’t there to bedazzle; it’s there to underpin and counterpoint the melody and enhance the message of the song. Without guitar solos or instrumental breaks, there’s room for the lyrics to take as long as it needs to get to the end of the story, while including traditional elements such as line repetition and call and response.

There’s a feeling that the album isn’t so much about the individual songs, but more about using the building blocks of the genre (the powerful narratives, the murder ballads, smuggling, stories of war and the mythical to create authentic but completely new songs in the folk idiom. This project in other hands could have become a pastiche, but Rupert Wates is much too good a writer and performer for that. He expertly marries intricate guitar parts to beguiling melodies to create a fascinating collection of songs that pays tribute to his folk roots.

The album’s ten songs (twelve if you split the two medleys into their component songs) are all well-crafted pieces of work but you can pick out two or three to represent the overall feel of the album. The high register picking on the ‘All the Fair Ladies’ leads into a wooing song with an additional call and response female vocal. After a short instrumental bridge, it’s straight into another call and response song on the theme of the spurned lover with some additional vocal harmonies. ‘Oh Captain’ is the mythological song of the bunch telling the story of a captured mermaid despite to return to her family, while ‘The North Road’ is a murder ballad relentlessly pushed on by a relentless fast finger-picked rhythm as it tells the story of the murder of a drummer boy and its inevitable outcome.

‘For the People’ is a neat celebration of the Engish folk style, created by a singer-songwriter with a huge knowledge of that genre. Rupert Wates is a master of his craft and he’s produced a lovely tribute to the genre and his fans.

‘For the People’ is out now on Bite Music (BR12116).