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Dragonfly Records DRCD001

This young duo has been best described as folk-scene hot property ever since releasing their 2011 debut CD Singing The Bones, consolidating the disc’s impact with their pindrop-inducing live appearances when on tour with Steve Knightley earlier this year. Their music gently mesmerises and takes its time to work its way into your consciousness. Its hypnotic presence may require your undivided attention, but be patient, for it reaps considerable rewards.

Loosely, the theme of the duo’s follow-up CD is traced through its title, Mynd, the Old English word meaning memory – principally in the sense of remembrance or act of commemoration. To illustrate that point, the disc’s central section forms a moving sequence that takes us from Elegy, a diminutive raga, on into a cautiously textured account of Whitsun Dance (aka Dancing At Whitsun) capped by a characteristic morris tune that in turn transports us back to the Napoleonic Wars for Hannah’s beautifully poised rendition of Banks Of The Nile (a disc highlight among highlights). In a kind of June Tabor/Maggie Holland association (in my mind, at any rate) this is succeeded by Hannah’s banjo leading into her own song Miss Willmott’s Ghost, about another “proper sort of gardener”.

This prompts me to remark on the high standard of the songwriting on this album, which has produced some extraordinary, very imaginative creations like Waterland (inspired by, and tellingly evoking, the special ambience of Graham Swift’s atmospheric book), Silbury Hill (redolent with ghostly rustic antiquity and genius loci), a number of songs drawn from accounts of real events (Silver Box, Song For Caroline Herschel and Last Broadcast), along with an ingenious adaptation of The Nailmakers’ Strike, a song found in Roy Palmer’s renowned Poverty Knock collection of industrial songs.

The duo’s imagination also produces those darkly exotic musical settings, the trademark (and bedrock) of which remains Phillip’s stupendous (yet entirely unassuming) prowess on dobro, tenor guitar, chatturangui (the Hindustani slide guitar) and harmonica, with Hannah’s accomplished viola or fiddle or banjo and – on a handful of tracks – just a little help from Robbie Burgess (vibraphone, percussion and either Matt Downer or Matt Tucker (bass). But fine though all those gently textured settings may be, and fully at the service of the songs, Phillip and Hannah still save the best till last for the bonus track-cum-encore, a heartbreakingly delicate take on James Taylor’s Close Your Eyes where their vocal harmonies are accompanied only by the comforting tones of Phillip’s limpid dobro traceries. Phillip and Hannah’s often enigmatic and yet utterly haunting fusion of backporch folk, newgrass and eastern has produced an album that is pure magic.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.