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ABBIE LATHE "Avebury" Park Records PRKCD67

Abbie will be known to many of you as one third of "Maddy Prior & The Girls", but since I have never caught a set of theirs, she was totally new to me.

This, her first solo album, contains a mixture of traditional, self-penned and contemporary material. And the impression she creates is a favourable one.

Her raw material for singing is solid enough: it is a pleasant voice that has an impressive range, although that said, it has no dramatically special DNA of its own. (Okay, that's a bit unfair: how many voices CAN be unique like Maddy's?)

But I think I am even more impressed with her abilities as an instrumentalist: she handles several instruments with confidence, and I particularly appreciated her piano on a moving song called "Two Island Swans (One Last Cold Kiss)".

Indeed, the playing of the ensemble gathering of backing musicians, was of the highest order. The melodeon of John Spiers was especially fetching.

If I am to be truthful, the jury is out on her own songwriting ability: the songs are perfectly respectable efforts, but I cannot see them being much-covered. That said, she has now determined me to seek out a little Oxfordshire hamlet called "Hampton Gay", the subject of one of her songs here. That "sparking of an interest", is more than most manage to prompt in me

Also, there are a few well-known songs covered here. One succeeded triumphantly, another effort fell somewhat short. The latter first.

She does Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Nothing Rhymed" phrase-for-phrase the same way as the boy with the cloth cap! Why? What is the purpose of doing a cover, unless it be that you really want to get INSIDE the song and put YOUR stamp on it?

Four tracks later, she blessedly seems to change tack totally. With "Lady Franklin's Lament" she really LIVES the part of the song's narrator. And she is aided by a superbly atmospheric arrangement.

So to sum up: a decent - and indeed, promising - debut solo album.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 55 of The Living Tradition magazine.