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Drover Records DROVCD001

The James Brothers are James Fagan (Aussie husband of Nancy Kerr) and Jamie McClennan (Kiwi husband of Emily Smith). When I saw them two years ago, in the early days of their collaboration, they gave a commanding display with strong singing and a rousing interplay of bouzouki, fiddle and guitar. They released this debut in summer 2015 and have re-launched it to accompany another UK tour.

The strapline is colonial roots music. The Brothers share vocal leads on eight songs which shed a welcome light on the work of songwriters and poets from Australia and New Zealand. Apart from The Ballad Of Ned Kelly by Trevor Lucas and The Poison Train by Michael O’Rourke, they are little known here. Run Away Wilder, for instance, puts a melody to a poem by Joe Charles about a New Zealand outlaw notorious for prison escapes in the 1960s. Hey Rain, by Bill Scott, lands us in the Queensland wet season. Most of the writers have passed on or are anonymous, but Tim Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House) is still with us. The performance of his Six Months In A Leaky Boat is a highlight, even though it lacks the strong choruses of the other songs.

The three instrumentals show the Brothers’ preference for energetic arrangements. Jamie’s fiddle is always lively though, for me, it can veer into indiscipline at times. James’s work with Nancy over many years has seen him develop into a rock solid bouzouki player. The Snow Walk pairs Jamie’s tune with one by Brian Pickell. James’s Family Tree is more laid back. Philby’s Terrarium marries tunes by Alan Burton and the Leitrim fiddler, Joe Liddy.

This is a bonzer album of little known material, more interesting than the retro outlaw schtick of its design would suggest. If the partnership continues, I hope they will have a go at writing their own songs about present day issues in the lands down under.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 113 of The Living Tradition magazine.