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NICK DOW - Unaccompanied

NICK DOW - Unaccompanied
Old House Music OHM807

Nick has been singing and researching English and Irish traditional songs for a good number of years now, taught and encouraged by the gypsy community and traditional singers from Dorset and Lancashire, but it has taken him quite a while to realise (and now modestly own up to) the fact that he has much to offer the folk scene as a purely a cappella singer (hitherto most of the time he’s accompanied himself on the guitar).

Nick ponders candidly in the present CD’s liner note: “I am wondering why I did not make this CD a long time ago”, but then again, he also admits that having singing lessons face to face with his mentors has been crucial to the development of his own singing voice, the end product now being the proud combination of sturdy qualities that together make up his own individuality, the act of making each song his own by getting inside its personality as well as its text and enabling it to breathe with him. The adjective “sturdy” is the overriding impression that first acquaintance with Nick’s singing affords: his is a well-rounded and full-toned baritone with a warm, supremely even-toned range and a grand confidence in the direct, unfussy delivery – and a well-defined sense of forward progression in the line of both argument and melody, one that involves and captivates the listener with its understanding of the song being sung. Nick’s storytelling prowess ensures this aspect of his singing is communicated, and he’s unafraid to vary the pace and rhythm where necessary in order to achieve this – his delicious rendition of Jack The Jolly Tar provides a good example, and he clearly relishes the fun element in the other ditties on the disc without any sense of force or artifice. As indeed he equally clearly delights in seeking out, or assembling for himself, credible performing versions of his chosen songs, not least to ensure they make sense: personal, but in danger of becoming definitive (no criticism intended), and invariably with the strongest and most distinctive of tunes adopted.

It’s surely a tribute to Nick’s artistry that the decorative nuances of his response to each song will ensure it emerges fresh-minted on each hearing, even though the listener might know what’s coming (if you get my drift). Particular successes on this selection include The Hare’s Lament (from Joe Holmes and Len Graham), The Cruel Wars (largely from Len), The Irish Girl (expanded by Nick from a lone verse in the Cecil Sharp collection) and One Night As I Lay On My Bed (collected by Nick and Mally Dow themselves from Bill House 30 years ago). Nick also turns in a convincing account of Factory Girl that complements the benchmark Sarah Makem source recording.

While realising I’ve namechecked half of the disc already, I must say that the recital contains no weak track, and such is the sheer quality of Nick’s voice that it’s tempting to return often to virtually the whole of the disc for a guilty repeat fix of its manifold pleasures. That’s not a comment one can make of every disc of solo unaccompanied singing, by any means, and thus might be considered among the highest of compliments. Either way, I suspect that even some of those listeners who would normally run a mile from solo a cappella might come to appreciate (or start to appreciate) the genre/mode on exposure to Nick’s fine singing. All helped along by Nick’s commendably informative booklet notes, naturally.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 108 of The Living Tradition magazine.