The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

It might seem a tad ne­po­tis­tic, even in­ces­tu­ous, but the game of mu­si­cal chairs cur­rently cir­cu­lat­ing the up­per ech­e­lon of English folk is en­gi­neer­ing some ex­ceed­ingly taste­ful al­bums, of which Mur­murs and The Spy­glass & the Her­ring­bone are prime ex­am­ples. Hard on the heels of their in­volve­ment in The Full English and The El­iz­a­bethan Ses­sion, singer-gui­tarist Martin Simp­son and fe­male vi­o­lin-play­ing vo­cal­ist Nancy Kerr team up with ace ac­cor­dion­ist Andy Cut­ting in a distin­guished new trio.

In an equally in­vig­o­rat­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion, for­mer Un­thanks and Imag­ined Vil­lage mem­ber Jackie Oates — another award­win­ning vi­o­lin and vi­ola-bran­dish­ing songstress with a flair for col­lab­o­ra­tion — is sup­ported by a hand­ful of the Bri­tish folk scene’s finest young male play­ers, in­clud­ing multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist older brother Jim Mo­ray and ban­joist/pro­ducer Ben Walker.

Mur­murs’ strength lies in its thought­ful recre­ations of dog-eared tra­di­tional odes that have been recorded by folk roy­alty over the years, most no­tably Simp­son’s for­mer part­ner-in-rhyme June Ta­bor. Set to a suit­ably dark and com­pelling 5/4 melody that matches the in­fan­ti­cide bal­lad’s strangely hyp­notic sub­ject mat­ter, The Cruel Mother and another al­bum high­light, the broad­side The Plains of Waterloo, show­case Simp­son’s ex­pres­sive vo­cals and guitar fin­ger-pick­ing and slide play­ing. The trio’s dom­i­nant mem­ber is sim­i­larly ef­fec­tive in ver­sions of other old chest­nuts, inspired by de­fin­i­tive cov­ers of yore by Hedy West and Martin Carthy ( Fair Rosamund and Broom­field Hill). In rous­ing ren­di­tions of tra­di­tional tunes, Cut­ting’s ac­cor­dions per­fectly un­der­pin Simp­son’s liq­uid guitar and banjo lead lines and Kerr’s ro­bust fid­dle riffs. The set’s ex­cel­lent orig­i­nals are headed by a del­i­cate Simp­son-penned waltz that blends the un­likely sub­ject mat­ter of bird­watch­ing and World War II tragedy.

Cov­ers and orig­i­nals over­lap as seam­lessly on The Spy­glass & the Her­ring­bone, although Oates’s sixth and most ac­com­plished work to date has a more cel­e­bra­tory and up­beat feel. The al­bum’s tone, es­tab­lished in a jaunty open­ing tra­di­tional bal­lad, is bril­liantly main­tained in a rol­lick­ing weav­ing mill song pro­pelled by funky guitar and wooden flute riffs. Mor­ris dance tunes pro­vide a lively pulse for a clas­sic cho­rus-styled song prompted by Pad­stow May Day fes­tiv­i­ties and a longcher­ished tra­di­tional tale con­cern­ing the devil and a farmer’s wife. Hand-clap­ping com­bined with drums and vo­cal refrains proves a con­ge­nial con­veyance for a Cor­nish stan­dard about rob­bers.

Oates’s love of her adopted West Coun­try resur­faces in A Cor­nish Young Man. The artist’s pre­vi­ously dis­played pen­chant for pop cov­ers con­tin­ues with a strings-suf­fused read­ing of Can’t Be Sure, the Sun­days’ droll late-1980s jibe at the va­garies of English weather. In two bal­lads of Ir­ish ori­gin, and in a beau­ti­ful schottische set to words, Oates tack­les more poignant sub­ject mat­ter with req­ui­site sen­si­tiv­ity, prov­ing her­self a singer, ar­ranger and col­lab­o­ra­tor for all sea­sons.

The Spy­glass & the Her­ring­bone Jackie Oates ECC/Planet

Mur­murs Martin Simp­son, Andy Cut­ting, Nancy Kerr Topic/Planet

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