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Ellen Mitchell "On Yonder Lea" Tradition Bearer Series LTCD1008

To my mind, one of the chief dissatisfactions with the folk/traditional music scene at the beginning of this new millennium is the ascendance of technical instrumental expertise, particularly with younger bands, without the corresponding improvement in feeling that is required for us to declare a true move forward. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of singing. I know that this is a generalisation, and that there are marked exceptions (such as in the case of the band Fine Friday with Kris Drever showing great mature vocal abilities), but, nevertheless from conversations that took place at last year's Sidmouth Festival it's apparent that I am far from being alone in thinking like this.

All the more reason, then, to welcome this album. Ellen may not be a young band but she is certainly a Tradition Bearer, who has the ability to signpost a way that shows that it doesn't have to be gimmicky, loud, or flash to be good. If anyone is looking for vocal histrionics, fancy embellishments or tricks, then they should look elsewhere. When I first saw her in action, sharing a stage with a range of other traditional singers her style wasn't the most immediately ear catching, and I thought I was relatively indifferent. However, as the show went into its post interval second half, I realised that I was looking forward to her coming back on perhaps more than most others that night. Her lack of affectation ensures that this CD too doesn't quickly outstay its welcome, and I'm playing it constantly at the moment whilst others with perhaps greater initial impact have since quickly worn out their comparatively thin charm.

Warmth and a sweetness are to the fore on the love songs that she tends to favour, but please note that the sweetness I refer to is not a euphemism for dollops of saccharine, but strictly appropriate to the song, as is the edge she brings to the rendition of ballads, such as "The Ewe Bughts", or the sparkle she shows on other items such as "Willie Brewed a Peck o' Maut". This song is the opener, and again she turns to Burns for the final track "O Wert thou in the Cauld Blast", where she gives a quietly heartfelt rendering that surely would've pleased the man himself. Utterly lovely. And skill indeed, to come nowhere near the OTT territory that too often has been the case with some of Burns' love songs.

Fourteen tracks of sound material, such as "Rue and Thyme", "Mary Mild" and "Clyde's Waters" with fine occasional accompaniment from Tom Spiers and Jack Beck, this deserves to become more than a connoisseur's piece and if there's any justice will be widely heard.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 49 of The Living Tradition magazine.