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Mondegreen Music MONDCD01

Here’s another of those “emphatically less is more” discs, on which just two participants enthral the listener with their unashamed quiet expertise and undemonstrative, unforced creativity. Their names may not have registered on your radar yet – even the very fact that they won a Danny Kyle Award at 2009’s Celtic Connections had hitherto passed me by too – but a bit of memory-jogging and a little more research yielded their history: Lucy’s a former member of Scots singing quartet The Linties, and appeared on the second instalment of the Complete Songs Of Robert Tannahill project, whereas Chris played a key part in the arrangements for Malinky man Mark Dunlop’s recent solo album Islands Of The Moon (and the Malinky connection is further strengthened by the presence of Steve Byrne as producer for The Speaking Heart.)

It’s hard to believe when listening to this CD that Lucy and Chris have only been singing together since 2008, so clear-sighted seems their penchant for sparse-textured, deceptively simple yet deeply expressive musical arrangements (in the main involving no more than two instrumental parts at one time), and so transparently intense their musical rapport and collective inspiration. Notwithstanding that intensity, one really gets the feeling that the songs are allowed to breathe, making their impact entirely naturally from within rather than having any artificial emotive content imposed thereon. Some feat that, in this age of over-statement, double-signing and dumbing-down!

The honesty and intelligence of Lucy and Chris’s vision is striking, as just one play through of this disc will attest, whether on their beguiling reworking of the Lady Maisry ballad (Child 65), their mesmerising drone-driven take on The Dun Broom Bride or the insightful pairing of Violet Jacob’s poem of loss and remembrance Hallowe’en (in Jim Reid’s moving setting) with Sara Daniels’ poignant anti-war song Bramblethorn (with only Chris’s plangent, fragmented piano chordings for accompaniment). Following which, the delicious squib of Wilsy And Nancy offers some light relief, a skilful little trifle, a soufflé interlude amongst the main-course ballads. Chris’s poised and considered interpretation of Willie’s Lyke-Wake (Child 25) provides another disc highlight, strategically placed as a kind of prelude to Hamish Henderson’s Ballad Of The Speaking Heart, which (entirely appropriately) closes proceedings and arguably receives Lucy’s strongest performance of the entire disc (though to be fair, her singing is quite remarkable throughout). Any potential charge of the duo’s vocal work being unduly subdued can easily be rebutted: just listen to that final track for a masterclass in subliminal passion… With exemplary presentation and packaging too, this release is a winner, and one that will stick around to haunt you for some time to come.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 89 of The Living Tradition magazine.