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JOHN SHAW - Says Plato

JOHN SHAW - Says Plato
Current Cat Records BINGO10

It isn’t often that an album showcasing the mountain dulcimer comes along, and as it’s one of my favourite instruments of all to play, this has been a pleasure to hear.

For the uninitiated, the mountain dulcimer (more commonly called the Appalachian dulcimer) is a normally three stringed instrument (as on this album), with a four string variant using a pair of strings in one of the treble positions also often seen, and is usually played on the lap. Despite its small number of strings, the fret positions and various tunings lend its use to modal pieces of work, and this is more than ably demonstrated by John Shaw here. Two tracks feature duets with Geoff Black, and these both demonstrate the harmonic range that multiple dulcimers can produce. By far the best tracks are the ensemble pieces (Stony Broke In No Man’s Land is a particular favourite, with dulcimer, fiddle, guitar and vocals), but also of particular interest is a Ukrainian klezmer tune, Makonovetski’s Gas Nign (a gas nign is a street tune played to accompany guests arriving at or leaving a wedding). Those of us familiar with Fairport’s Three Drunken Maidens will recognise The Four Drunken Maids here (number four arrives in verse two), and there’s a new reading of Barbara Allen (Barb’ry Ellen and its many variants).

I appreciate that the dulcimer is a specialist taste, but most folkies have dipped into its orbit, including Joni Mitchell, Allan Taylor, and even Simon Nicol in his day - and it’s thanks to the Nonsuch Dulcimer Club, of which John Shaw is an active member, that the delights of this instrument continue to be championed. I can vouch for these guys (and gals) having met (and indeed jammed) with them at Fylde. This album is as good a place as any to begin your dulcimer adventure.

Grem Devlin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 112 of The Living Tradition magazine.