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FLOOK "Rubai" Flatfish 004CD

"Rubai: A four-line poem, in perfect rhyme, full of music, rhythm and breath." A good title, which (as the inlay notes point out) virtually chose itself. John Joe Kelly, reclaiming the bodhran from its position as the last refuge of the musical illiterate, explores the full range (and then some) of that much-maligned instrument, ably assisted by Ed Boyd alternately stroking and striking his strings with immense sensitivity, the two of them underpinning the sublime flutes and whistles of Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan.

It seemed improbable that Flook could produce anything to approach "Flatfish", a well-nigh perfect record, but "Rubai" runs it close. The tunes are so in the tradition that it come as something of a shock to discover that only a couple of them actually are traditional. Most are written by members of the band, Finnegan's name being especially prominent. It's quite possible to imagine some of them being played in sessions by those with the necessary skill, but scarcely with such attack, precision and sheer musicality as is brought to them by this quartet.

It's the variety - tempo, tone and style - which most impresses and delights. Flook can rip it up with the best of the jig-and-reel merchants, but they can do the slow stuff with equal facility. For example, there's the transcendent "Glass Polska", which begins with Allen and Finnegan unaccompanied and concludes with Boyd at his most subtle, or "Suiamhneas Intinne", one of Finnegan's own. It was inspired to include Seckou Keita on percussion and Rory McLeod on trombone recalls the heady days of Allen's earlier legendary band, The Barely Works. I can think of few other performers in any area of folk music who could play such a range of material seemingly unfettered by technical limitation. This is one very special band.

Dave Tuxford

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This album was reviewed in Issue 50 of The Living Tradition magazine.