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NICK DOW - Old Englandís Ground

NICK DOW - Old Englandís Ground
Old House Music OHM801

If I use the words “sturdy” and “solid” to describe Nick Dow’s performing style, then I might risk being accused of clichéd critical response, but those words are both sincerely meant and offered in the spirit of accuracy. Nick has spent a lifetime immersed in English traditional folk song, researching and collecting in the time-honoured way. His singing is straightforward and direct but never in the least dull; casting an immediate spell on the listener, it’s rooted in the timeless traditional style that is both his natural mode of expression and his personal choice of delivery, although he readily acknowledges the inspiration of, and direct teaching from the good auspices of, many of the traditional singers he’s met over the years and learned his craft from (incidentally, he also praises the internet resource The Full English as an invaluable tool).

Nick’s approach is tried and tested and one that might be tagged old-fashioned (though in the most positive sense) and this latest disc presents a set of ten songs, some of which he’s been singing for over 40 years and some learned quite recently. They are entirely honestly and unpretentiously delivered either a cappella or with his own guitar for accompaniment (and mostly at a first or second take). So evident is Nick’s close connection with, and true affection and respect for, each one of them that the overall feel of the collection is of a seamless continuity with tradition. He brings even the best-known of these songs to life anew, whether in yielding fresh interpretive insights (often by the incorporation of variant or extra verses, as with The Blacksmith) or providing the stimulus of fresh tunes (as with The Shepherd’s Song and, most especially, Through Bushes And Briars). At the same time, Nick has also unearthed some real gems, comparatively rarely-encountered, the pick of which for me is The Nightingale (which he found in Roy Palmer’s English Country Songs collection), which has a tremendous melody and is here particularly beautifully phrased and sung by Nick.

In short, Nick has every right to be proud of this record; he states with disarming candour in his liner note that he doesn’t think he’s ever sounded better and even notwithstanding the reliable and consistent high quality of his previous records, I think I would agree with him. Complete with informative song notes, this is a fulfilling and eminently stylish disc that almost cannot be praised highly enough, not least for the thoroughly commendable integrity of its performances; it has given me much listening pleasure and artistic stimulation.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.