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"Never A Cross Word" Old & New Tradition ONTCD. 2021

The average fan of English folk music (at any rate, as represented by the mainstream media) will very probably not have heard of Tynesiders Danny and Joyce, although they're both excellent singers and they've been heavily involved in the north-east folk scene and highly regarded as performers and organisers for many years. Danny has sung with the Keelers and Pinch o' Salt, then subsequently with Joyce alongside Barrie and Ingrid Temple in the four-piece harmony group Salt Of The Earth, finally on that group's demise launching out as a performing duo in their own right. Wisely, they've spent the intervening years in accumulating and road-testing a distinctive repertoire largely unique to themselves, comprising what they term "songs to last forever" (the CD's subtitle). I'm glad to see that these embrace no less than six fine examples of settings of Cicely Fox Smith's maritime verse; here it's mostly Danny at the vocal helm, reflecting his lifelong interest in, instinctive feeling for and deep understanding of the stirring and highly evocative work of that underappreciated poet.

There's also a neatly-managed triptych on the subject of whaling, kicking off with Jonty Davis' chilling depiction of the brutality of that trade set to a perversely catchy chorus (Try Boys Try) and ending with Joyce's compelling solo rendering of Harry Robertson's Whaling Wife, with Danny's sensibly-paced version of Greenland Whale Fishery as its centrepiece. Elsewhere, Joyce takes the lead on Roy Harris's simple but harrowing Millworkers' Children and turns in a lovely solo performance of John Gay's beautiful love song Black-eyed Susan.

The bulk of the remainder of the collection is unashamedly traditional - a not-often-heard version of John Barleycorn is well complemented by that increasingly celebrated, if perhaps uncharacteristically jovial, drinking song by Graeme Miles Merry Little Hop (here, as on a handful of other tracks, Joyce and Danny are augmented by the superb ONT "house chorus" of Dave Webber, Anni Fentiman and Johnny Collins). Joyce's "bubbly" version of the Sandgate Girl's Lamentation is a delight, while special mention must go to an exceptional Waters Of Tyne towards the end of the CD, on which Joyce's daughter Donna is given the chance to sing lead with Joyce providing delectable supporting harmonies. Aside from Dave Webber's concertina (on one track), all the songs are performed unaccompanied, but the colours of the individual voices and their variety in expression provide more than enough to delight the ear and should "give you a clue" to the high level of accomplishment on display here. And so the CD's title proves cannily accurate in its depiction of a harmonious and well-produced collaboration between two fine voices.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 50 of The Living Tradition magazine.