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GREN MORRIS & SAM STEPHENS - Hums Ancient and Modern

GREN MORRIS & SAM STEPHENS - Hums Ancient and Modern
Private Label SAM0011

If there were a Harris prize for the best punning CD title this year, here would be my winner. It’s a very appropriate title, the artists have put together a programme that includes ‘ancient’ traditional songs and material from present day writers to demonstrate the ‘modern’, all of them well chosen and well performed.

Richard Thompson’s The King Of Bohemia makes an impressive opener to the album, fittingly sung by Gren Morris in his resonant baritone. He takes the lead on all the songs, while Sam Stephens, well remembered for his duo work with Anne Lennox-Martin, adds harmonies and nimble guitar work that underpins the vocal without dominating it, the sign of a player who has a true grasp of what these songs require.

Other ‘modern’ songs include Graham Pratt’s Merlin’s Song, a beautifully harmonised version. The sleeve note to this song shows the duo’s irreverently humorous tinge: “Wizards do not appear to be the first choice of subject for the makers of soft toys.” Nice to see a Graham Pratt song still current.

There are some surprising song choices too. Who’d expect Lover Come Back To Me from Sigmund Romberg’s The Desert Song to crop up on a folkie record? The same can be said of the closing track, Irving Berlin’s 1935 hit song Cheek To Cheek, immortalised by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the film Top Hat. Surprises yes, but well performed, especially Stephens’ guitar work on the latter.

Traditional songs are not neglected, I Drew My Ship and The Flash Lad get good workouts, while The Minor Lakes Of Pontchartrain, from the singing of Maggie Holland, is a tour de force. My personal favourite is The Streams Of Lovely Nancy, but every track on this CD stands up well. Watch out for these lads at your club or festival.

Roy Harris

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