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Private Label  SAECD9

We're in "difficult second album" territory with this one. UFQ's debut was a stunner - I used that very word - and by folk standards Off Beaten Tracks has followed swiftly on its heels. There's some great music here - the opening pair of funky full-blooded reels, Polca Areiras from Galicia with a wonderfully delicate Latin arrangement, and several superb Joe Broughton brews - but the urgency of the fiddling has diminished since that first freshly frantic recording. The increased tightness doesn't quite make up the lost ground. Paloma Tirgas' Missing Jig, pretty though it undeniably is, struggles to fill six minutes on its own - and the guitar-percussion backing is not perfect enough to cover the gap. The All But The Hours set is similarly overstretched at eight minutes, lacking variety despite four strong tunes. With just two fiddles in the front line - even two as good as Broughton and Tirgas - plus only guitar and percussion round the back, exposure is always a risk. Occasionally the mix runs rather thin. Despite this, UFQ have produced a very decent second CD. It just doesn't quite live up to my hype after their first album.

Some of the more laid back tracks here are worth highlighting. Most of Off Beaten Tracks is the band's own material, but they make an exception for Miss Crawford and Anne Lacey's, powerful modal melodies underlined by growling fiddle while the backroom boys stoke the boiler of their runaway rhythm train. Frank Moon's oud struts its triple-strung stuff on Zephyr, named for capricious breezes rather than clapped-out Fords. The Turkish theme continues with Kiz Kulesi - not a reference to Daenerys Targaryen - and then the last of the three songs here, the unashamedly gentle Dandelion, ends this recording "not with a bang but with a whimper": in a good way. Off Beaten Tracks has grown on me, and if it's on in the background I find myself frequently reaching for the remote to hear that last track again, but so far it doesn't wow me like the first UFQ album.
Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.