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HARBOTTLE & JONAS - The Sea Is My Brother 

HARBOTTLE & JONAS - The Sea Is My Brother 
Brook View Records BVR001 

What makes a great song? Is it the lyrics, possibly; is it the musicology, perhaps; is it a combination of both; or is it the test of time? The Sea Is My Brother by Harbottle & Jonas, a husband and wife team, is competent and even accomplished, but in the final analysis, it lies within the musical trammels of many a young modern duo. The Harbottle & Jonas team can claim authorship for most of the tracks, with only two of the 11 being written by different composers. David Harbottle contributes vocals, acoustic guitar and banjo. Freya Jonas adds her safe and pleasant-sounding lead and harmony vocal, along with harmonium and concertina. Other instruments - violin, cello, mandolin, double bass, mandola, drums, trumpet, oboe and additional vocals - are provided by ‘special guest’ artists.

The Sea Is My Brother, as the title implies, is a musical foray into all things nautical. There are several themes explored. Was It You? by Ewen Carruthers concerns Scott of the Antarctic. Father Thomas Byles is a song about personal sacrifice aboard the sinking Titanic. A Lady Awakes is an account of the heroics of Grace Darling. Liverpool City is about the age-old predicament of a sailor leaving his true love behind. Elizabeth Prettejohn is an instrumental piece where the assembled musicians give full rein to their musical talents. In my view, by far the most successful song on the album is the last track, Saved Alone, by Freya Jonas. Sung with great empathy by Freya, it is the only song for me where there is true engagement and connection to the catastrophic sense of loss inherent in the material.

In terms of delivery, if you like your folk less traditional and more contemporary, there is much to be said for the Harbottle & Jonas style. The music is not earth-shatteringly original, or the themes explored unique, but the concept and performance of the CD is pleasant enough for all that.

John Oke Bartlett

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This album was reviewed in Issue 128 of The Living Tradition magazine.