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ALEX CATON - Never Take A Daisy Down The Mine

ALEX CATON - Never Take A Daisy Down The Mine
Private Label

Alex was born in England, “a grandchild of master craftsmen, coal miners and strong women”, and moved with her parents to the States at age 12, later settling in Virginia and becoming an integral member of its traditional music community, not least in pursuing the liaison between the worlds of Irish and old-time music. For this, her fourth album project, she presents, through a tribute to her own personal family history, a celebration of the coal-mining industry and its heritage.

This thematic presentation of the album reflects the strong sense of community of the mining towns, mostly in song but also including two poems (spoken by Alex’s uncle Graham) and a couple of fiddle tunes. The songs are given spirited and deeply felt performances, (interestingly) largely in an old-time mould, with accompaniment provided by Alex herself on fiddle, banjo and guitar, together with musician friends supplying additional acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, bass and vocals (though textures are never cluttered).

For me, the most compelling items within the carefully chosen programme turn out to be Minnie Pit Disaster, a poem telling of an explosion in 1918 at the North Staffordshire pit of that name, and Alex’s setting (with Ned Oldham) of Graham’s poignant poem that gives the disc its suitably admonitory title. The remainder of the songs are more well-known: Collier Lass (the story of lovelorn young 19th century mineworker, Polly Parker), Alex Glasgow’s Close The Coalhouse Door, Rita MacNeil’s Working Man, and Kay Sutcliffe’s Coal Not Dole (using Paul Abrahams’ tune – which I was surprised to find so confidently misattributed in Alex’s otherwise well-researched notes). There’s a chance that just occasionally the listener may be slightly wrong-footed by the stylish arrangements, but they make sense in context. Altogether this is a thought-provoking disc, shot through with authenticity and integrity.

David Kidman

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