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SPIERS & BODEN - Fallow Ground 

SPIERS & BODEN - Fallow Ground 
Hudson Records HUD024CD 

This most exciting of traditional music’s duos lasted just 13 years before laying duo work aside; this decision being made simply because they were working so hard in the big-band Bellowhead (which they’d founded) and on many other projects. And here’s another 13-year gap, between 2008’s Vagabond and Fallow Ground, which takes up the baton with all the confidence and spirit you’d expect from this team. They still know how to enjoy themselves – even during the strictures of lockdown – and are eternally able to put a fresh spin on tradition. So this comeback album is nothing less than quintessential S&B. Feelgood, gutsy, expert and wholly intuitive musicianship from two guys who still know how to have fun. No surprises, but no disappointments either.

Fallow Ground ideally balances rumbustious stompsome tunes (mostly either sourced from morris or specially composed in the idiom) and songs both contemplative and life-affirming. They start as they mean to go on with a brace of gems from the Peter Bellamy corpus – the Australian folksong, Bluey Brink, and a funky take on Butter, Cheese And All – from which the natural progression is to an animated medley leading off with The Cuckoo’s Nest. A comparable momentum and vigour characterise the Playford dances, Goddesses and Red House, while the unstoppable energy the duo generates lasts right on into the disc’s tremendous final set, a pair of self-penned tunes celebrating specific hills. Tucked into the sequence we also find some more reflective pieces, such as John’s pictorial original tune, The Fog, (neatly characterising today’s in-the-air vibe) and Graeme Miles’ wistful Yonder Banks. Song highlights of the CD for me are the title track – an appealingly honest and melodic treatment of The Cock (from the singing of Louis Killen) which (unusually for traditional song) seems to enjoy rather than lament its central scenario – and a subtly dramatic take on Reynardine.

So congratulations, John and Jon, on giving us back our sense of optimism. Music to rouse the spirits, with something of a sense of vengeance, determined to have a good time in the face of pandemic.

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 141 of The Living Tradition magazine