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Private Label NKM023

A new firm of solicitors on the block? Nah! Just a gathering of like-minded mates, enjoying singing the songs they like to sing and inviting their listeners along to share in the fun. R-O-K’s tremendous, life-affirming joie-de-vivre is intensely apparent in live performance (I can testify to that), and this CD, an unpretentious home-grown recording captured on familiar territory in Lincoln last November, is a significantly-better-than-average replication of that gig experience, and even if (inevitably) it can’t quite shout out of the proverbial grooves it comes perilously close on occasion!

So who are the protagonists? “Long tall Liam” Robinson is a singer and box supremo well known for his sterling work with traditional Lincolnshire folk songs and ceilidh bands on the Lincoln scene, while his wife Frances Kelly is blessed with a particularly solid and forthright vocal presence and their colleague Eddy O’Dwyer (just one talented member of the illustrious O’Dwyer clan) is a skilled exponent of the five-string banjo and guitar as well as being a darned good singer. Their individual voices blend marvellously, and when they all sing together, whether in harmony or unison, the effect can be quite overpowering, though in the nicest possible sense – and while they’re clearly much inspired by the Bellamy/Young Tradition models, they’re not out to emulate or tribute-band-trivialise, just to have a jolly good time. But importantly too, they take their art seriously and respectfully, as their personal, humble and natural contribution to the ongoing tradition of which they are clearly an integral part.

R-O-K’s repertoire consists primarily of tried-and-trusty folk-club standards (I’d bet virtually every selection will be familiar to a healthy percentage of readers, especially those with club singing experience) - and there’s nowt wrong with that when the performances are as vibrant and full-on as these. The set-list includes Pilgrim’s Way, Edwin In The Lowlands, Dutch In The Medway, lusty hunt-song The Morning Looks Charming, a pair of shanties (Johnny Come Down To Hilo and Clear Away The Track) and Stephen Foster’s Hard Times (get the picture?) – all guaranteed to spark at the ‘right’ kind of folk club, where the congregation embodies the valued all-embracing sense of community. The Coppers’ Claudy Banks works well with its division of parts, while Oakham Poachers and Watercress-O both receive committed accounts (from Liam and Eddy respectively).

I was a touch puzzled by one or two of the trio’s interpretive quirks, like some verses of High Germany being sung to the harmony melody, while some listeners might consider Jack Hall a little too jolly (but then it does set the tone for the disc!). And Richard Thompson’s Dimming Of The Day, though efficiently sung, feels a touch too harshly rendered to penetrate with the requisite tenderness to the song’s heart-rending core. Yes, of course, there’s always a danger that in choosing such songs R-O-K will invite unfavourable comparison with celebrated classic readings from past outfits, but by and large R-O-K can more than hold their own in this regard. A third of the 15 selections are performed unaccompanied, while the instrumentation on the remainder is only placed in the frame where it feels to genuinely support the song, not in the form of an automatic chugalong “for-the-sake-of-it” or as a bid for concessionary acceptability with an audience of the unaccountably-allergic-to-acappella variety. Now there’s a good thing…

A highly enjoyable disc. Take any card from the pack: mix and match with a horn and a shout, and you’ll be away!

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 110 of The Living Tradition magazine.