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O’HOOLEY & TIDOW - The Fragile

O’HOOLEY & TIDOW - The Fragile
No Masters  NMCD39

Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, the self-titled “purveyors of chamber folk”, have crafted an album of fine and thoughtful pieces around the theme of the fragility of life. Their songs about the state of the world (the robin, ‘observer of the maelstrom’, and The Last Polar Bear,witness to the effects of global warming) and the vulnerabilities of the human condition are reflective, moving and compassionate. They are rich with clever and poetic, often quite personal, lyricism, with their ‘fascination’ with birds being a recurrent source of imagery.

Humour again leavens matters as the catchy piece about eccentric 19th century Anne Lister (aka Gentleman Jack or Jack the Lass, the rural entrepreneur gentlewoman eventually exposed as lusty lothario through decoding of her diaries!) and the comic, faintly plaintive, account of veteran Yorkshire folk Vera and Albert’s seaside trip. There are also beautiful renditions of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser’s Teardrop, sung a cappella, and a touching presentation of the poem Little Boy Blue.

As on their first release Silent June, harmonising and skilful instrumental use of their voices is excellent and Belinda’s piano work brilliantly animates the songs with moods, colours and textures. The sophisticated arrangements again interweave folk, classical, jazz, and music hall elements in their own now distinctive manner. The Solo Players string quartet and the percussion of Cormac Byrne offer important contributions along with Anna Esslemont, Andy Cutting, and Jude Abbott.

Contemporary styled images of the songs against a backdrop of foxed paper cleverly evoke the themes of time, nostalgia, and memory in exploring their subject. Neil Ferguson (Chumbawamba) mixed and mastered the album for the No Masters Co-operative to which they are passionate members and, through their singularly special song making and music, perfect ambassadors.

Finally, sitting here, lap-laden with my own (third) black cat Florrie, I must express empathy and thanks for the comforting knowledge relayed by the voice of Jackie Oates in a coda ditty for their own deceased ‘beloved’ black feline. Apparently, once all those several lives have been used up, according to Cornish witchcraft, such creatures go to a paradise called Summerlands.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.