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HILARY JAMES WITH SIMON MAYOR 'Laughing At The Moon' Acoustics CDACS047

Listening to this elegant album of lively traditional and original folk-based music and song is a pleasure - Hilary James' high, pure English vocal radiates light and beauty. This is her fourth solo album, though Simon Mayor's influence is deep-felt. The traditional tunes come from England, Scotland, Ireland, and from across the Atlantic. Mayor's masterly playing impacts immediately - mandolin is his main instrument; though he also plays mandola, mandocello, violin and guitars here. His influence on the album's bright lyricism is remarkable.

James' lovely vocals radiate and delight throughout, and are supplemented by her not-inconsiderable skill on guitar, mandobass (looks impressive on the album cover!), double bass and bass guitar. Guest musicians lend depth and structure to the ensemble. Her voice rises pure and clear above 'The Dream', 'Fireflies' and 'Laughing With The Moon', and the breezy, fiddle-enhanced 'Newcastle'. Her vocal is beautifully direct (as is the crystalline sound of the mandolin) on broadside ballad 'The Shearing's Not For You', set to a delightful Scottish tune. 'Andrew Lammie' is a traditional Perthshire song telling the tragic tale of Agnes Smith's doomed passion for a lowly Fyvie trumpeter - the very effective use of military-style drums in this song creates quite a 'doomed' feel, whilst Mayor's fiddle adds more than a touch of emotion. 'Shenandoah' (probably from Canada or the US) is sung as a lullaby, and features some fine soprano sax.

The four instrumentals are equally enjoyable. Top of my list are the jigs 'Hey! Johnny Cope/Athol Highlanders', stirring pieces that gather considerable momentum - Mayor's agile mandolin picks astonish, and the piece is rounded off with a big, satisfyingly-resonant pluck of the mandobass' strings. Centuries old 'Hunt The Squirrel/Long Odds' is from Playford's Dancing Master, a collection of English dances and tunes. Images of film adaptations of Austen's magnificent novels spring to mind, as I imagine this tune alongside 'Mr Beveridge's Maggot' and 'The Barley Mow'. Mayor's 'The Reel Thing' creates exactly the same effect! There's a nod to Ireland with the jauntily buoyant 'Carolan's Concerto'. This is an album I'll return to again and again - immensely enjoyable.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 58 of The Living Tradition magazine.