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RUTH NOTMAN & SAM KELLY - Changeable Heart 

RUTH NOTMAN & SAM KELLY - Changeable Heart 
Pure Records PRCD52 

Ruth Notman has been quiet of late. After releasing two well-received albums in 2007 and 2009, she disappeared from the scene to concentrate on her medical studies. Sam Kelly, one of English folk’s rising voices, thought this was a situation that should be remedied, and he managed to entice her back into the studio for this duo album. Thank goodness he did – it is superb!

Here we have an album of traditional songs, well-known folk songs, and a couple of their own. From the outset, Ruth’s stunning and absolutely unique voice begins to work its magic on The Bold Fisherman. Sam joins, and for the rest of the album their voices weave in and out, matching perfectly both in style and in decoration. In unison, they are gorgeous; in harmony even better.

After the title track (one of their own which, although bordering on the soft-pop side, is a real earworm) the pair tackle the tale of The Cunning Cobbler, with a lively, musically interesting development. Ruth’s lead on Burns’ Caw The Yowes is hauntingly beautiful and showcases her voice perfectly, and this leads into, for me, the album highlight – Sweet Lass Of Richmond Hill – where Sam’s delicate vocals glide over one of the album’s more minimal musical arrangements. Other songs covered include Paul Brady’s The Island, Ewan MacColl’s School Days Over and My Lagan Love.

Even if I didn’t know that Damien O’Kane produced this album, I would know that Damien O’Kane produced this album. He has a sound, and it is very much in evidence here – warm, full, glisteny, modern. Mostly it works well but (no harm to Damien who I think is pretty brilliant) sometimes it feels a bit too sweet; like the wrinkles have been ironed out a bit too much. But I am being super-critical here, you would go a long way to find a song album this good – I love it, and heartily recommend it.

Fiona Heywood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 128 of The Living Tradition magazine.