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Pipe Dream Music PDM007

The second album from this accomplished acoustic duo provides clear evidence of Blanche and Mike’s common interest in, and observance of, the cycle of the turning of the year. Through an eclectic and stimulating collection of songs that evoke and celebrate the seasons, they take us on a tour through the folk customs of Britain (with the occasional diversion via medieval France). A particular speciality of this duo is the blending of the English and Welsh traditions, good examples of which occur on Joy, Health, Love And Peace (which creatively juxtaposes two old Pembrokeshire New Year carols) and the pairing of two May carols (Northill May Song and Mwynen Mai). Their take on the traditional Welsh spring song Mae’r Ddaear yn Glasu (The Earth Is Greening) is thoughtful, while they bring an invigorating aura of likeable vitality to the 13th century French troubadour verses of C’est La Gieus En Mi Les Prez, Zoë Mulford’s Bonfires (a lusty Hallowe’en song with a distinct Cloudstreet feel), and the quirky closing “medieval mash-up” that quite logically cobbles the mildly heretical Adam Lay Ybounden with a brace of rousing 16th century English dance tunes. Oh, and seasonal parody’s not forgotten either, with the gleeful “foodieté” of Crudités!

The combination of Blanche’s delicate yet assured vocal timbre with Mike’s tender, tremulous tenor makes for some distinctively attractive harmonies and their voices make for a powerful duetting force on the late Maria Cunningham’s wonderful Spirit Of The Trees, a disc highlight that ideally exemplifies Blanche and Mike’s empathy with Maria’s own sensibility and keen appreciation of tradition. Similarly on Ranna Hurst’s beautiful, autumnal The Hops In The Gardens which so tellingly evokes the drawing-in of the year.

And yet, their singing as individuals is at least equally satisfying. Mike’s unexpectedly minor-key arrangement of Ploughman Lads is especially compelling, as is Blanche’s singing of the Irish Gaelic Ode To Brigid, while Mike also turns in a sensitive rendition of Searching For Lambs. The musical backdrops – mostly guitar and octave mandola, with occasional laùd a 12-string Spanish lute, recorder or bowed psaltery – may be deceptively simple and unfussy, but they suit the material brilliantly, possessing a deftly charismatic quality that also well reflects that of the voices which they accompany. I can confidently recommend this CD to anyone sharing the duo’s respect for this land’s traditions; for yea verily, the dance goes on.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 99 of The Living Tradition magazine.