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Reviews: Shaskeen, Walking up Town, Mary Humpreys and Anahata, Cold Fen

Walking up Town
[Faoileann Records CDFA3515 (2009)]

Shaskeen has played together in various incarnations since 1974. Their comfort with each other and with the music is evident on every track. The tunes are played as dance music, instead of exercises in pyrotechnics. Piano, guitar and various drums provide rhythm with the melodic lines played by accordion, flute, banjo, uilleann pipes, saxophone (!) and mandolin (with a notable lack of fiddle). Although dominantly jigs and reels, they add a polka, a set of waltzes, two barndances and a breakdown to the mix. The songs, too, are delivered without ostentation as sung seated during a break in a séisiun, which, of course, make you hang on every line.

—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)

Mary Humpreys and Anahata
Cold Fen
[Wild GooseRecords WGS362CD (2009)]

Humphries selected these East Anglian melodies from the collections of Vaughn Williams and Cecil Sharpe. Williams did not include the lyrics of the songs, but Humphries mated words to music with the help of the broadside collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Humphries’s vibrato-rich alto is paired with her own playing and that of multi-instrumentalist Anahata. The delight of this music is that it is pleasant without being the least bit cloying. The playing is adroit without being showy. On “La Poole Quadrill and the Recruiting Officer,” Humphries’s English concertina and Anahata’s Anglo concertina weave together two melodic lines in perfect polyphonic harmony.

Where so many Scottish songs seem to be about battles and twisted aristocrats, and so many Irish songs are about the supernatural and are markedly tragic, these English songs are about ordinary lives led quite well enough, thank you.

—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)


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