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Dragonfly Roots DRCD003

There is a well known saying along the lines of “when everybody else goes west, then it is smart to go east”.

And why I wonder, did that line pop up in my head just as I sat at my keyboard to write this? Not really sure, but I have a hunch as to why.

And it is this: it comes from the pressure that is always on a critic to conform to received opinion. That pressure does not come from his editor. Nor does it come from a PR agency handling the author, recording artiste, etc., who is the subject of the review.

No, it comes from within the critic’s own soul. And I feel it quite strongly within me as I write this review...for I am not a contrarian by nature: I generally really do agree with received opinion on most aspects of the Arts. For example, I find JS Bach sublime, whereas I find his son JC Bach merely “moderately rewarding”.

And so, knowing that I tend to conform, surely I am going to give this a rave review? After all, this duo is hottish property and moderately big box office these days: such a change from 2010 when they were discovered busking in the back of a pub at Sidmouth Folk Festival. And if you are going to be discovered, then who better to discover you than Steve Knightley, who promptly booked them as support act on part of his Show Of Hands tour!

And they have never looked back: it culminated in them winning Best Duo at the BBC Folk Awards in 2014. And this is their first studio CD since their win. And it is already being heralded by the Folk cognoscenti as a sure fire winner: just as their 2013 album Mynd garnered all those 5 star reviews, with the likes of Mike Harding and Robin Denselow all heaping superlatives on it.

So, my subconscious is now no doubt telling me that I do not want to be seen as a duffer, so I must fall into line. And do you know something? My subconscious has won: for in large measure, I am happy to bang the drum for this CD.

Because this is one heck of a classy journey they take you on. Superb musicians and convincing vocalists, both of them. I have now heard this album ten times all the way through, and it has me drooling at its vibe.

It has been many years since I last smoked wacky baccy: and I have never felt quite so relaxed since those distant days, as when I played this CD. There is a spiritual feel to it. It has the mesmeric quality in places of Richard and Linda Thompson at their best, and occasionally is redolent of Indian classical music.

And this latter link is doubtless the result of dazzling multi-instrumentalist Phillip travelling to India in 2008 to study under the tutelage of Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya, India's premier slide guitarist.

That said of course, some of the songs are about the very antithesis of dreamy content: Hannah’s well crafted lyrics sometimes here deal with edgy, non-frivolous, subjects. And golly, you have to hand it her, for their songs run the gamut from the life of a foundling, to that of cotton mill workers, to lost relationships, to life on the road as a working musician, etc, etc. And all the time, Martin’s fiddle playing is the authoritative equal of her über cool voice: and it is some voice, shown perhaps to greatest effect in the one a cappella track...January.

So far, so good. I guess the reader of this review might be thinking “what’s this Dai’s problem? He seems to love the album.”

Well many ways, I admit to being charmed. It is just that I am a bit perplexed by their publicity handout which describes this work as their chance to “explore the idea of a modern folk tale”. That suggests some continuity and collective storytelling coming from the dozen tracks: maybe there is, but I’ll be darned! After ten listenings, I still cannot see the links between the songs.

And a final point: I lament the fact that there was not one song here that really captured my heart and made me want to commit it to memory. When I think of Folk duos who plough the same furrow, there is often a song on their CD that blows me away. Examples? Well, take Megson’s The Longshot, or Winter Wilson’s What Mothers Do. Songs that move into the back bedroom of your brain and know they are safe from the slightest risk of eviction.

Well, there is not one such here, alas. But the album has everything else... honest.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 110 of The Living Tradition magazine.