Tom & Barbara Brown - "Where Umber Flows" - Wild Goose WGS300CD

Husband and wife team Tom & Barbara Brown come up with their debut album after a lifetime of singing and proselytising folk music and custom. To call them activists would be putting it mildly - I have known them for upwards of thirty years throughout which time they have organised clubs and sessions, been on festival committees, researched and revivified moribund local customs, been stalwarts of the Song & Ale at Whittlebury, done gigs as a duo and with various groups, collected songs, and inspired dozens (conservative estimate) of people to get into this music. They did this in their native West, and continued when they lived in London. Now back in their own locale they continue to be a catalyst for musical activity. Wherever the Browns go, people start singing. All that work, done for the love of it, shows the measure of them as people. This album, with it's honest heartfelt singing should establish them as performers who's voices and choice of material make them the musical ambassadors of the West Country.

The 'Umber' of the title is a local river, and the tune, written by Barbara, is quite my favourite track on the album. A gently flowing, evocative piece appropriately played by Tom, Chris Bartram, and Keith Kendrick, two of the ten guest musicians present. The song choice includes some from Devon and Cornwall traditionalists such as Mervyn Vincent, 'Father' Charlie Bate, and that finest of nature's gentlemen, Bob Cann. Lovely to have his 'Craftsman of the Moor' sung here by Barbara as 'Dartmoor Song' in Tom's arrangement. Naturally the name of Baring-Gould features in this collection. His 're-composition' of a tin miner's text called 'The Keenly Lode', carries a message about speculation that still rings true. The Cornish 'Green Cockade' is a version of the widely spread 'White Cockade', ringingly sung by Barbara, and typical of the song research the Browns carry out. They do step outside of their area from time to time, notably with a 'Flying Cloud', sung by Tom, which has an Australian tune and a New Zealand text. A good combination, it works well, as does the rest of the album. A worthy showcase for two charming and dedicated singers.

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 40 of The Living Tradition magazine.