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Topic Records TSCD591

This is one of those albums that one awaits with eager anticipation. After all, Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr need no introduction to any reader of this magazine. Stellar names all three.

And no doubt this will be one of the biggest selling Folk CDs of the year. And it does not disappoint.

The musicianship, as you might expect, is of the highest order. The several instrumentals even make fat couch potatoes like me, start dancing around the room. Absolutely joyful stuff. And the slower Seven Years shows Andy Cutting at his most convincing. This number from his pen is - in racehorse terms - by Quendale Bay out of Ashokan Farewell...but is original and moving in its own right.

Far from “joyful”, but very satisfying, is their treatment of classic traditional ballads like The Plains Of Waterloo and The Cruel Mother. But, it is a more modern cover that really hits the bullseye: the trio’s funky treatment of Lal Waterson & Oliver Knight’s Some Old Salty. It brings the CD to a close. It is a track that lasted three and a half minutes, though I wished it could have gone on and on. My favourite cut by far. And Nancy’s vocal harmony is just divine.

There are a couple of reasonably strong songs from her pen. Dark Honey is on urban bees making dark honey from the residue of old Coke cans, and the other – Not Even The Ground – is on the perils of fracking. Even though I do not necessarily buy the song’s standpoint, I have to admit it has a corker of a chorus.

Along the way, the album pleases with newly crafted songs. The opener – Dark Swift And Bright Swallow - is set in Slapton Sands in Devon, a place I have visited several times to see the memorial to the thousand brave Americans unnecessarily lost just prior to D-Day in its waters. But Martin Simpson has now got it into my head that next time, I must make a first visit to Slapton Ley nature reserve there.

Who says that folk musicians just teach you songs? The best of them give you new passions.

And mentioning my travels, brings me to one of the weirdest bits of serendipity imaginable.

I was travelling home to North East Lincolnshire from a holiday in Cornwall. Along the M5, I heard radio news - and saw on matrix boards - of major delays further up the motorway near the turn off to the M42. So I did my usual in such circumstances and came off at the Tewkesbury exit and headed for Stow-on-the-Wold, and the most beautiful “rat run” in all Britain...and took the glorious Fosse Way right up to the M69 just south of Leicester.

And I promise you on my life, that my first mile on the Fosse, coincided with my first play of track 6 of this CD. And it - Toy Soldiers - gripped me with its opening line: “The Romans built this road I’m on, straight and true, straight and true”. Two words come to mind: “hairs” and “neck”. And of course, with it being a Martin Simpson song, it looks for another dimension to the mere travelogue. And here he describes the roadkill of pheasants, and then broadens it out into a whole bigger subject of the rearing of these beautiful birds for shooting by filthy rich, sexually impotent, city slickers, to show how macho they are. (The last dozen words there are mine, and assuredly not his !!)

But what is his, is that same desire to educate as evinced in the Slapton Sands opener: in these lyrics he tells me something I never knew, viz. that the Romans, apart from building sublime roads, also introduced the pheasant to Britain.

I am much wiser after listening to this album, than I was before I started.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 109 of The Living Tradition magazine.