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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2001

HIGH NOTES

Clive Gregson


The fickle finger of fashion has confounded more than a few artists who lack confidence in what they're doing. For some, however, it can be an elevating challenge.

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Back in the mid-'70s, Manchester singer-songwriter Clive Gregson led a British folk group called Any Trouble that was well-respected but slightly behind the curve at a time when people like Graham Parker were setting a new standard for folk rock. Gregson redirected Any Trouble's music toward a more poppish New Wave sound and signed with Stiff Records in 1980. NME called the band's first album "the most exciting debut since 'The Pretenders,' " but despite consistently great reviews, none of their five albums ever made a dent in the marketplace and Gregson dissolved the group in 1984.

Fashion finished, Gregson returned to folk and hooked up with singer Christine Collister, taking up where Richard and Linda Thompson left off when they'd split several years earlier. After six years of beautiful, dark records and an extended stint as members of Richard Thompson's touring band, Gregson and Collister themselves broke up, but not before producing their own parting-of-the-ways album, which some say rivals the Thompsons' "Shoot Out the Lights" as a gripping testament to love gone sour as seen from both sides of the bed.

Gregson moved to Nashville in 1993, and his subsequent string of fine solo albums lean less heavily on the kind of romantic anguish and piercing self-doubt that characterized his previous work. His voice has also mellowed considerably; the occasionally affected rasp replaced by a mellifluous tenor that brings out his exceptional melodies. The new album, "Comfort and Joy," recorded at home with Gregson playing all the parts, is relaxed and reflective, two traits that normally indicate an artist is content with his lot -- which, in Gregson's case, is a sizable cult following and enough confidence in what he does to ignore fashion forever.

Opening for Gregson on his solo Japan tour is Flook, an Irish quartet boasting two flutists who tend toward the whirling-dervish style of trad. He'll also play with a group of Japanese musicians for a special rock gig of mostly Any Trouble covers. There's no cult like a Japanese cult.

Clive Gregson plays with Flook on Dec. 11 and 12, 7 p.m., at Shibuya Nest, (03) 3462-4420; and with Tokyo Any Trouble on Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m., at Shibuya Crocodile, (03) 3499-5202.


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