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Private Label KR005

The musical distance between Britain and Australia is greater than it should be, despite the efforts of Martyn Wyndham-Read, James Fagan, Andy Irvine and plenty others. Declaration is the fifth album from Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton, an Aussie duo who have built a fine reputation there since they began playing together in 1998, but I hadn’t come across them before. I’m glad I have now.

Their expressive, well-matched voices, singing solo or in harmony, bring out the light and shade of the material. The spare musical accompaniment of guitar (Kate) and banjo (Ruth) gives the songs room to breathe. The producer Luke Plumb (ex-Shooglenifty) adds well-considered bouzouki and mandolin.

The 11 traditional and contemporary songs roam from Australia to Britain and America. Love, or the lack of it, is much in the air. The Declaration (words by Aussie poet John Shaw Neilson, tune by the aforementioned Martyn) is a declaration of faithful love. Kate’s The Freeze deals with love cherished amid intolerance. Martha Scanlon’s Little Bird Of Heaven is a symbol of hope and shared love. These contrast with the defiant restlessness of Katy Cruel, the sorrow of Queen Of Hearts (not a song I’ve ever liked), the false charge of infidelity in Waly Waly (from the singing of June Tabor) and the troubled marriage in Bleezin’ Blind Drunk (from Sheila Stewart and Linda Thompson). We also get Father Adieu (a “white spiritual” collected by Alan Lomax in Virginia), Ruth’s politically righteous Hearts Of Sorrow, the excellently arranged Dean Younk A Gernow (a song of emigration in Cornish and English) and Dylan’s Lay Down Your Weary Tune.

The album is well thought out and beautifully delivered. Their website gives some useful context. After a significant gap for child-raising, they see this as the start of a new era with a more deeply considered approach.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 111 of The Living Tradition magazine.