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PHIL BROWN - "Pendle Moon" - Big Whistle Music BWM20001

This is a hard one. On the one hand, it's an album of extremely well-known slow tunes played on a low whistle, with rather syrupy backing. On the other hand, it's an attempt to show the versatility of the low whistle and bring it to a new audience.

Let's look at the facts. Phil Brown is a traditional musician from Northern England who plays an Overton low whistle. There are many who play better, but perhaps not in the English tradition. On this, his second whistle album, Phil has gone beyond the normal bounds of eclecticism. The thirteen tracks cover psalms, sixty's folk songs, easy listening classics, popular jazz, a Phil Cunningham composition, and slow airs from at least four different traditions. There are also a few original compositions. The arrangements go from discreet fingerpicked guitar and Coulteresque keyboards, through showband line-ups of accordion drums and bass, to orchestral strings and brass. "Carrickfergus" and "Dirty Old Town" are given the full Freckleton Prize Brass Band treatment, and the beautiful Shetland air "Da Silvery Voe" is arranged for tuba and euphonium.

The general impression is that Phil Brown has attempted to cram as many different styles and tones as possible onto this CD. To a large extent, he has succeeded. Unfortunately, many of the tunes and arrangements really do not suit the whistle: the segue from brass band to solo whistle is truly bizarre, and the swing numbers such as "Smile" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me" simply fail to swing.

The tracks where it works are the more traditional ones. Mr Brown's low whistle style is a quite simple one, plenty of slide'n'warble and not much improvisation, which works well on Phil Cunningham's haunting "Ross Memorial Hospital" and on older tunes such as "The Northern Lass" and "Mrs Jamieson's Favourite". These are also relatively unarranged. The title track is quite nice too. Most of the rest of this album has novelty value, and there are only three or four tracks which really make me cringe.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 38 of The Living Tradition magazine.