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Malthouse MALT01

Malthouse Passage describe themselves as “essentially a festival, concert and English ceilidh band (who) draw on a vast range of influences for their sets”. They have a dynamic, upfront style of performance which is both attractive and eminently suitable for listening (arrangements are cannily tailored for “a comfy armchair or a bop round the kitchen table”!). Another bonus point is the unusual instrumental complement: melodeon/Anglo concertina, hammered dulcimer, guitar, clarinet/whistle and bass. The only band member I’d previously encountered was box player Dave Young, whose WildGoose album with Dave Bordewey (Beer And Black Pudding – his tune of which name makes a reappearance in the track three set here) I’d so enjoyed last year, but there’s no faulting the remaining band members in terms of musicianship, for they self-evidently give their all in vital and refreshing performances that sparkle with infectiousness and responsive phrasing. All the players also display a well-developed sense of rhythm that incorporates quite naturally in tandem with their admirably keen adherence to the metre of the dance some deliciously sprung syncopations (notably in Nick Simon’s sometimes decidedly quirky bass parts!).

A key defining feature of the Malthouse Passage sound is Lisa Warburton’s nifty mountain-goat hammered dulcimer, which both blends enticingly into and struts proudly out from the texture. At the same time, the fruity presence of Cathy Rollo’s bass clarinet can lend a Pyewackett-like air to the proceedings on occasion. In fact, there’s a lot going on within the band sound generally: rather more than you tend to get in yer average two-or three-part arrangement in a typical dance-band. The band’s repertoire is sourced from a healthy variety of locations: East Anglia to Shetland and Sweden, Blowzabella and Roaring Jelly to Filarfolket. The instrumental tracks are without exception deliriously joyful (the Johnson’s/Sunshine Hornpipe set will bring more than a smile to the face, as no doubt will the introduction of “plumbing” on the Halling Polka and the bizarre circus-style twists and turns of ides Of March!). Finally, another welcome feature of this disc (unusually for a CD by a dance band) is the inclusion of four songs, two of which (Seasons and Never Look Back) stem from the folk songwriting skills of guitarist Alan Courtney and feature some gloriously full vocal harmonies doubletracked by the other band members. Sound is bright and truthful, with an immediacy born of the deliberately-live recording. Over A Barrel is an uplifting, feelgood disc, at the eventual conclusion of which (after 56 minutes) I just had to go right back to the beginning and play it over again.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 75 of The Living Tradition magazine.