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Threshold Music TM0910

Dana and Susan Robinson are among America’s best exponents of songwriting and music-making within a traditional style. They are based in North Carolina, and their sound is broadly Appalachian, with guitar, banjo and fiddle to the fore. They have toured the UK several times, most recently in March 2010. Big Mystery is their third album as a duo, and Dana’s ninth.

One of the main purposes of Dana’s songwriting is to entice listeners into paying closer attention to their natural surroundings. This comes across strongly in the title song, which beautifully evokes Vermont in May, and is followed through in Zephyr Wind. Other songs show the dangers of neglect. Cairo is a lovely song about a town at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, once a bustling port but now a casualty of floods and race riots. Gone But Not Forgotten, by Lui Collins, is about a freed slave cemetery under threat from developers. Dana and Susan share the lead vocals, and both have a natural warmth in their singing which made me feel they were in the same room. 

There are four tunes, and the two written by Dana are particularly fine. French Broad Waltz is named for a local river. Waiting For Gordon was composed in Tobermory while waiting for their host to pick them up. It’s an ambitious but perfectly executed piece, with assistance from North Carolina musicians on percussion, acoustic bass, piano and dotar. A local DJ described it as Indo-Celtic-Afrolachian.

I enjoyed this album very much, though I was left wanting more. At 38 minutes, it’s smaller than most British portions.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.