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MIRANDA SYKES 'Don't Look Down' Irregular Records IRR052

Miranda Sykes is a name that now registers on a national level: her reputation - thanks in part to her work with Firebrand and also the Bill Jones Band, and lately the Phil Beer Band - has grown well beyond her native county of Lincolnshire. And thus one is tempted to wonder if one meaning of her punning album title is not simply advice to the vertiginous who are climbing a high and dizzying spiral staircase to Folk stardom. Or if you prefer, forget the spiral: rather like a game of "Snakes and Ladders", at the end of this CD, let's ask the question whether we see her Folk career enhanced or diminished by this foray into solo album territory.

The answer just has to be a positive one, as there is so much in this album to appeal to the listener. That I wasn't blown away by it, is of little import: in fairness, this reviewing game is always somewhat serendipitous, and when one reviews albums as I do, strictly on a first come/first served basis, there is always the danger that a very decent album like this will be reviewed straight after a masterpiece. And late last night I wrote a review (for another publication) of the long awaited Best of Friends album on Appleseed Recordings: an album I not only expect to not see bettered this year, but probably not this DECADE.

So it was Miranda whose album had the misfortune to follow a masterpiece on my reviewer's playlist. And whereas most CDs would have inevitably brought with them a sense of "the morning after the Lord Mayor's Show", her album proved able to stand up strong by itself, and not wilt in the heat of the comparison. And there is so much to love about it.

First I love the fact that she does not go down the usual "young folkie road" of singer/songwriting. Although her being the daughter of two well respected singer/songwriters has no doubt meant that she has inherited the genes, to date (at least, as far as I know), we have been spared her efforts in that department. I use the word "spared" pejoratively, only insofar as so many of the CDs I review contain largely indifferent, self-penned songs: however if Miranda has a real talent in that department, then I say "bring it on, please!", as soon as possible.

And if the tune she wrote for her setting of Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is anything to go by, then she has the melodic side of the song writing business well sussed. But she is perhaps wise enough to realise that lyrics are a whole different ball game, and why try your hand at it when you can have Shakespeare's great contemporary as a lyricist?! (Oh, and by the way Miranda, excuse me being pedantic, but your liner notes have missed off the "e" off his surname.) But I admired this choice of opening cut, as I admired several songs on the CD.

There is one song that sweeps all before it, and that is track 9, Lincolnshire Song. I could write 5,000 words on this song alone, but because of space restrictions, will limit myself to a short paragraph.

Now, the casual observer debating whether or not to buy this album and setting his eyes on the fact that the song is written by her dad John, might harbour views that some good old-fashioned nepotism has been at place here!

If he/she DOES think that, then let me disabuse them of such a thought immediately. It could not be further from the truth. The fact is that the song is absolute perfection: the intelligence of the lyric just dazzles in almost every line, and the melody fits it like a glove. If I could become Dictator of Lincolnshire, I would insist that the song be learned by all inhabitants of the County, and sung "a cappella" at the opening of all public events and meetings: it would even replace Jerusalem at Women's Institute meetings.

And Miranda delivers it like she has written it herself. Not for her, the auto-pilot delivery favoured by so many these days: she steadfastly refuses to sacrifice MEANING on the altar of tone and texture. I can think of no higher praise than to say that she sings almost CONVERSATIONALLY. (And I was almost tempted to add that she plays her double bass that way too: certainly her virtuoso accompaniment if not suggesting a conversation with us the listener, seems to suggest a constant conversation with herself the singer. And perhaps that is the hallmark of good accompaniment.)

And here one must pay tribute to the four musicians who she has roped in to assist on the album. I know it would be invidious and silly to pick one out over the others: they all cut the mustard. But that said, I just have to acclaim Imogen O'Rourke's inspirational flute playing, especially on Lincolnshire Song. rings a lump to the throat when allied to Miranda's fine diction.

One slight caveat Miranda. If you are not going to go down the singer/songwriter road, beware of one potential pitfall. There will be a tendency to want to sing songs of friends, especially those who are unknown and need a "helping hand". Resist the temptation. That way, only lies "Mediocrity".

I have never met you, but can sense that you have a kind and generous nature. Well, when it comes to choosing material, throw these aspects of your character out the window. Be ruthless. For had you been here, one or two of your selections might never have survived to the CD "final selection" stage.

But a minor caveat in what was a most pleasing CD. one, furthermore, that contains a track of true majesty.

Dai Woosnam.

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.