From start to finish, Anthony Toner‘s new album does serious mileage and covers some ground, and as you’d expect nothing less from the bard of Coleraine, it’s poetry in motion.

Opening with the lonesome ‘Bless This Road’, melodic yet mildly melancholic, this is a frankly beautiful song of yearning for home and its comforts. Betraying the worldly weariness of a life on the road and its tiresome journeys, the gentle pace welcomes us into what is a mature and finely crafted collection. ‘Bless This Road’ is trademark Toner, as is the clever ‘Conversation With A Hurricane’.

Miles and Weather

Toner’s mastery as a lyrical storyteller shines through by track two. It doesn’t take long for these tunes to feel familiar and as always, endearingly easy on the ear. Pensive and reflective, ‘Conversation With A Hurricane’ just about stops short of going into the dark before snapping out of it. With a click of the fingers comes the upbeat, uptempo ‘Come On Angel’ and an injection of wry humour.

‘Come On Angel’ fires out some of the sharpest, cutest one-liners – who else could come up with “God bless all the barbers who cut my hair and said son, that’ll do rightly” or “as a high-heeled hooker walks past the church and makes a little sign of the cross”. Something of a seventies, country rock vibe to this one, a flick back to rocking out in county town church halls.

With ‘Walked Upon The Water’, the tone turns soulful once again, calmed by rhythm and rhyme, simple yet sublime. For ‘Train I’m On’, Toner is back on track and moving on – “drinking Old Bushmills when we’re out of champagne on the train” – what’s not to like? Just rolling along, this jaunty song.

‘Great Big World’ is an adorable tribute to a 1970s childhood, to bygone summers and curious pastimes – stealing a magnifying glass and burning a hole right through a shoe; discovering a “dirty book” and not knowing that “girls could look like that”; offering prayers to unknown entities, deities or Santa Claus – all the great big metaphysical questions rolled up in the innocence of paradise lost, then regained in retrospect. Another gem joins the blessed Anthony canon.

From the cherubic to the tongue in cheek, ‘Cadillac Graveyard’ rouses a rockabilly, racy beat – all fired up – fast but not quite furious. Wryly a proposal is made at the ‘Cadillac Graveyard’ – walking hand-in-hand between the burned out engines – she said it could never be. Love the lyrical humour – “all the pretty colours of the rusted hard tops, they couldn’t make her change her mind” (wonder why?) The chorus line “oh if my blood was gasoline” flows through the veins and makes me wonder, if Johnny Cash could be invoked?

‘Dear Amelia’ is sincerely crafted like a little love letter to the past, before the signature, title tune. ‘Miles and Weather’ revisits the meandering theme of too many miles clocked, too much time wasted cooked up in a car going around the proverbial bend. Not quite the end though – for planes make an appearance in ‘Andrea’s Runway Song’. Planes, trains and automobiles combine in harmony to form ‘Miles & Weather’ – Anthony Toner’s sixth album, possibly making him one of our most prolific songwriters.

From ‘Eventually’ (2002) ‘A Sky For Every Day’ (2008), ‘The Duke of Oklahoma & Other Stories’ (2009), my personal favourite ‘A Light Below The Door’ (2011), ‘Sing Under the Bridges’ (2012), a ‘best of’ in 2013 ‘Walking Down The Line’ to ‘Miles and Weather’ (2015), there’s a repertoire to be proud of, all produced by Coleraine’s own local hero and celebrated bassist Clive Culbertson at the No Sweat Studios.

I’m looking forward to hearing these new songs live somewhere down the line and Anthony will be taking his show on the road again this Spring.

Friday 6th March No Alibis, Belfast
Wednesday 11th March Town Hall, Ballymoney
Saturday 21st March Songwriters Festival – Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart
Thursday 9th April Black Box, Belfast – ’30 Songs For Chris’ event, to raise funds for The Christopher McCollum Fund – with Ben Glover, Brendan Murphy, Eilidh Patterson, Matt McGinn and John McCullough on piano.
Saturday 18th April The Courtyard Theatre, Newtownabbey
Friday 24th April The Braid Arts Centre, Ballymena – with Ciaran Lavery and John McCullough
Saturday 2nd May An Creagan Arts Centre – Songwriting Workshop from 11am to 5pm
Friday 8th May The Island Arts Centre, Lisburn
Saturday 9th May The Strule Arts Centre, Omagh
Friday 22nd May Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick
Saturday 30th May The Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen