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KAREN TWEED - Merrie Melodies Vol.s

KAREN TWEED - Merrie Melodies Vol.
May Monday Horizons Publishing ISBN: 9780993394317

Musician, composer, artist, raconteuse and fully licensed eccentric, Karen Tweed is one of the most creative characters to frolic round the fringes of traditional music, and one of the few to become a central figure in the evolution of more than one country's tradition. Both Ireland and England consider her a part of ‘their’ music, and she's a well-kent name in Scotland, Sweden, Finland and perhaps other nations. Her tunes have been recorded by many other top players, and are session favourites wherever the piano accordion is tolerated, and even in some places where it is not. This book holds 18 of Karen's tunes - not all of them by a long way, which is why it is only volume 1 - but it contains so much more too. Merrie Melodies is more of a musical biography than a tunebook, full of stories, artwork, advice and opinion, a snapshot of Karen Tweed's world and a slice of the rich cake that is her creativity.

From cover to cover, Merrie Melodies is filled with drawings, notes (musical and otherwise), recipes, poems, and charming tales of the people who inspired these tunes, all hand crafted by Karen. There isn't a typeset character or computer-generated line in the entire book, with the possible exception of the back cover border. Every page is in full colour, and in fact there is so much artwork that the musical notation is sometimes at risk of being overwhelmed by dragons, dartboards, dogs, boats, motorbikes, tigers, and diverse foliage. Many of Karen's best known compositions are not here - Waking Up In Wonderful Wark and Back Home In Onsbacken are absent, for instance - but perhaps they are slated for a subsequent volume.

Ms Tweed has gone to great lengths to make her music accessible, providing detailed suggestions for accompaniment and being very careful to notate the melodies simply and accurately, as well as including a full recording of her own performance of each tune in the accompanying CD. She is also keen to point out that the book is only a framework, a guideline, and that there is plenty of room for variation and even improvement. As Niall Keegan's foreword points out, written music is only “basic instructions for creating performance” - it does not define the result.

It must be said, though, that many players will want to emulate Karen's performance of these pieces, and very few will improve upon them. From the waltz Lovely Lorraine, to the reel Steele The Show, there's a wide range of styles and tempos here. The old-timey Cliff Is Wot? and the funky Collapsing At Hoagies, the graceful air Midnight Mead, and the joyous jig No Better Friends are just some of the gems whose facets can be explored in this book. There's a preponderance of slower tunes, in several different keys, and some tricky faster numbers too. As a final mark of Karen Tweed's particular genius, Merrie Melodies has neither contents table nor index: instead, Karen has combined both these important functions into a single list - we might perhaps call it a ‘context’ - which provides names, page numbers, and alphabetical search, all on one handy star-sprinkled page. Magic!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 117 of The Living Tradition magazine.