Ailsa and John Booth

Ailsa and John Booth
- Hammadocks and Thingummyjigs
Acorn OAK010

While this duo are pleasant the important part of this album seems, to me, to be the self-penned songs of John Booth. His songs capture the best of those elements used by songwriters like Huw and Tony Williams, or John Richards:That folk club stream which is not quite traditional, not quite roots, but always welcome to a folk audience..

There are six of his compositions here, and a mandolin tune called 'March of the Umpires’. He shows a nice turn of phrase and an ear for a good tune, and a willingness to experiment in style. I particularly liked his adaptation of the talking blues style on his wartime stories of 'The Man Who Lived by the River’.

The couple also do songs by the likes of Nanci Griffith, Pete Morton, Natalie Merchant and Beth Neilsen Chapman, in which singing and arrangements have a rather old-fashioned floor singers feel. At times you feel they would be better off right on top of you, rather than the folk-club distance chosen in the mix by the recording engineer. Easily the best in that style is their version of 'Shule Agra' with its refrain “Johnny has gone for a soldier”, which seems ideally suited for Ailsa's vocal style.

Not a great album, I feel, but the duo show distinctive strengths in their best areas. It would be nice to hear them concentrate on them.

Bob Harragan