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Penny Fiddle Records PFR1701CD

The Twisted Twenty is an intriguing new ensemble comprising nominally six musicians (although I counted seven on the publicity photo!) who play on ‘period’ instruments – baroque violins, cello and double bass – along with cittern, guitar and bodhrán. This means that the sound they produce is bright and energetic, sometimes wiry and slightly rough-hewn (almost rustic, one might say) in comparison to the smooth sound of their modern counterparts. A key inspiration for these musicians is the 12-volume Caledonian Pocket Companion, a mid-18th-century collection of tunes published by Scotsman James Oswald, from which a healthy proportion of their repertoire is drawn.

The performances are lively and animated, characterised by a really infectious joie-de-vivre and an intelligent approach to scoring, for the musicians possess a finely-tuned understanding of both the timbres and the potential of the instruments with which they are working. The overall flavour is authentically folk-baroque, yet with the zest of discovery rather than a slavish adoption or dutiful overlay of period mannerisms. Items such as the opening Ragged Sailor Set and the enticingly titled She’s Sweetest When She’s Naked (paired with The Banks Of Forth) provide perfect examples of the ensemble’s sprightly performance style. The noticeable additional depth provided by the cello and double bass will easily rebut any charge of thin or ‘rarefied’ that’s often applied to the sound of a baroque ensemble. Further augmentation to The Twisted Twenty’s full sound also involves a smidgen of electronics – for example, what a rumbling drone and sounds like swooshing sea noises in the background on Arthur McBride, here atmospherically done in the style of a measured pibroch. The disc’s six instrumental items are complemented by two well-realised vocal performances by the group’s singer Holly Harman – The Three Ravens and the Burns song, John Anderson My Jo.

An enthusiastic and properly exhilarating debut offering from this bold new ensemble. Pity about its relative brevity (only just over 35 minutes, including a shimmering after-life reprise tacked on half a minute after the end of the gorgeously lyrical closing track, Fáilte Na Míosa).

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.