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GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR - Utopia And Wasteland

GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR - Utopia And Wasteland
Rootbeat Records RBRCD40

I have to admit that some of this duo’s earlier work passed me by, but in more recent times I’ve been most impressed by what I’ve heard, and this new album’s no exception – there’s not a mediocre track on it, the singing and musicianship are quite simply outstanding, and no patronising remarks of the “very good for their age” variety are necessary; they can stand any comparison.

Most of the songs are composed by the duo, the majority by Russell, and I’m sure these benefit from his politics degree; he addresses a wide range of subjects with a skilful pen, and many of them would suit someone like Dick Gaughan. But in some ways he’s trumped by Algar’s powerful We Are Leaving, dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire – a simple but very effective use of words sung by its composer. It also provides the album’s title.

Much of the music is also out of Ciaran’s head and demonstrates an exceptional ability, both in the composition and the execution. His accompaniments are sensitive and restrained, augmenting the stories in the songs, while his compositions fit in with the traditional tunes seamlessly.

If this all sounds a bit hyperbolic, there’s one small niggle. I found that Greg’s frequent addition of a superfluous “h” in front of o’s and a’s detracted from his otherwise superb singing. However, both of them have grown considerably through making solo albums and other collaborative musical ventures, and I was reminded in some ways of another outstanding musical pairing from the past involving fiddle, guitar and a (very different) voice...

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 124 of The Living Tradition magazine.