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JOHN ROBERTS & DEBRA COWAN - Ballads Long & Short

JOHN ROBERTS & DEBRA COWAN - Ballads Long & Short
Golden Hind Music GHM-111CD

As a regular visitor to British shores, I imagine that American singer Debra Cowan (featured in TLT 108) will be a more familiar name on this side of the pond than her ex-pat English collaborator on this album, John Roberts, who’s spent the last 45 years in the US.

Thse 45 years seem to have left John with a singing style that’s still firmly embedded in the 1960s, as is much of the material that the pair have chosen to record. Please don’t take this as a criticism – I think their choices have, by and large, been well made. Three of the 14 tracks are composed songs: John Warner’s Anderson’s Coast gets a good airing, and the John Conolly/Bill Meek classic, The Broadside Man, which used to be sung to death 40 years ago, was a pleasure to hear again after such a long time! Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for Chris Sugden’s Combing The Mane, which just didn’t seem to come to life here.

The remaining traditional songs are all very professionally performed and produced, John’s accompaniments on anglo-concertina and banjo are an excellent fit with the vocals, and there’s a fine guitar accompaniment to Fair Annie (one of the “ballads long”) from Bill Cooley. And it’s excellently interpreted by Debra, as are most of the songs that she sings. I particularly enjoyed Gypsum Davy, an interesting Appalachian version of The Gypsy Laddie collected by Sharp a century ago – her rich tones told the story well. In addition, the sleeve notes are informative and interesting.

Altogether this is a workmanlike assemblage of well-proven songs that I guess is a good representation of what you’ll get at one of their gigs.

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 111 of The Living Tradition magazine.