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HILARY JAMES - English Sketches

HILARY JAMES - English Sketches
Acoustic Records  CDACS059

Building on a series of concerts at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, this recording, accurately subtitled A celebration of English landscape, weather and seasons through traditional song and new settings of poems…, is a beautifully constructed evocation of Englishness. Book-ended, as overture and doubly reprised finale, by Baring-Gould’s lyric to A Country Dance neatly grafted on to Simon Mayor’s A Jug For Good Measure, with an utterly captivating oboe melody line, the musical palette is broad. There are Hilary and partner Simon’s arrangements of other traditionally sourced material (including The Bold Fisherman, the West Country Bell Ringing Song, the sinister and macabre border ballads The Two Ravens and Young Benjie, and an exquisite rendition of Beneath The Willow Tree), a piece from Gay’s 18th century Beggar’s Opera, and a sequence of new musical settings for some poetry. These include the charming and delightful Winter and Spring (from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost), Thomas Hardy’s Weathers, and A. E. Housman’s darker edged Bredon Hill.

The musical artwork richly represents the spirit and mood of the wordcraft depicting the pastoral calendar and seasonal cycle, the bucolic fieldscape and woodscape (‘greenwood trees’ on ‘May mornings’ etc!), and the joys and woes of rural life.

Hilary’s clear, sweet and beguiling voice is the foreground to the cleverly balanced combination of Simon Mayor’s very exactly refined and precisely executed colour detail of strings (guitar, the customary ‘mandolinquency’ - mandolin, mandola and mandocello - and violin) with sublime use of cello (Nick Cooper) and oboe (Paul Sartin) for melodic, often arresting and haunting,detail on several tracks. There is also some bass backing, mainly by Hilary herself, drum work (Simon Price) and occasional but important contributions from accordion (Paul Hutchinson) and pipe organ (David Pether).

Finally, praise must also go to Hilary’s appealing landscape sketch illustrations that so appropriately adorn the cover and capture the concept of the recording.

Kevin T Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.