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ALICE WYLDE - Songs Of Old Appalachia

ALICE WYLDE - Songs Of Old Appalachia
WildGoose Studios WGS394CD

Reviewed with:

CATHRYN CRAIG & BRIAN WILLOUGHBY Real World Cabritunes Records CAB006

I have reviewed these two CDs together because there is such a strong bond between them. Both singers are women who grew up surrounded by traditional American music, yet both now live in England.

There is more than a touch of Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles about Alice Wylde’s CD. Born and raised in West Virginia, and living in the Appalachians until she moved here when she was 43, these songs were learned at her mother’s knee and the way she sings them is just the way she used to hear them sung or sing them herself at family gatherings. Her husband David and WildGoose founder Doug Bailey persuaded her to commit them to binary code, so what we have here is almost a field recording, certainly a source recording. She sings them simply, accompanied when appropriate by the extraordinary Dan Stewart on banjo, guitar, dulcimer and fiddle. She has that unmistakable Appalachian quality to her voice.

There is no information on the inserts about the songs apart from their titles - they are allowed to stand for themselves - but there are a few paragraphs about Alice and her relationship with these songs, as well as some amazing photos of her home until the age of 21. Every track is a stand-out track, but Babes In The Wood is an evergreen and a nice touch is that the accompaniment is played on Alice’s mother’s dulcimer.

Cathryn Craig was born and raised in Providence Forge, Virginia, but moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to learn her craft and go the singer-songwriter route. And of course she later came over to England and hooked up with ace guitarist Brian Willoughby.

Their CD is a mixture of re-recordings of old favourites and newly written songs. They were recorded in the studio without overdubs, just Cathryn on vocals and guitar and Brian on guitar. Both songs and arrangements are finely crafted. Time Has Proved You Right, a song about Hillsborough, could in fact be about any David and Goliath battle for justice. Cumberland is a little more specific, being about the Nashville floods of 2010. Also included are Two Hearts (One Love) (the only non-Craig/Willoughby composition), from Cathryn’s first solo CD, the wonderful Porch Songs, and Alice’s Song, about a girl with Asperger's syndrome, which Aled Jones chose as one of his 2009 Highlights of the Year on his BBC Radio 2 show. Which probably makes it a standard. As for Brian's accompaniment, just listen to the stunning guitar work at the end of I Will or throughout Malahide Moon. Sheer perfection. And Cathryn’s singing still retains that old-timey feel.

Both CDs benefit from a simplicity of approach that allows the music to be timeless and placeless. Long live traditional music, even when it's only just been written.

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 96 of The Living Tradition magazine.