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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews When Every Song was New by Mick Ryan and Paul Downes

This teaming of two of the very finest artists on the folk scene has thus far produced two well-received CDs, Grand Conversation and Away In The West, and here’s the third, which celebrates the happy coincidence that both Mick and Paul were born in the same year and both underwent their folk scene apprenticeship at roughly the same time. When Every Song Was New also intentionally returns to several of the (traditional) songs which each of the men absorbed, almost without trying, during those formative years.

Paul provides inventive, judicious and intensely sympathetic guitar (or occasionally, banjo) backing, for which the term ‘accompaniment’ is considerably inadequate! Some further embellishment is provided, selectively and delectably, by Maggie Boyle (flute, whistle, bodhrán), Gill Redmond (cello), Keith Kendrick (concertina) and Tom Leary (fiddle). Particular successes among the traditional songs are You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure (learnt from Tim Lyons), Knife In The Window (a version of Hares In The Mountain from the repertoire of Bill Whiting) and a beautifully phrased account of The Lover’s Ghost. An a cappella rendition of The Lass Of Maharalee also comes off well, even if Mick’s normally smooth timbre shows occasional signs of wear in the early stages of the song. Disc highlights include the strictly nontraditional items in this collection. Dave Goulder’s January Man is masterfully evoked by Paul, while the place-name-bedecked chorus song Beccles Gates (by Mal and Bill Jardine) is an attractive opener. Others are from the pen of Mick himself, including the disc’s title song (a sincere tribute to the folk scene which has given Mick and Paul so much pleasure), and a brilliantly animated retelling of the ballad of Summerwater.There’s an appealing consistency in this set of performances, partly emanating from Mick and Paul’s common cultural heritage during their early years on the folk scene and partly due to the men’s assured, confident delivery of their material. Only occasionally do I feel that Mick’s trademark legato style over-extends some of the bar-lines and thus the lyrical aspect of the melodic line, but that’s a minor concession when considering his keen interpretive insights.

All in all, this is a disc that will please lovers of traditional song, and will serve to reassure doubters that the art of creative reinterpretation has not disappeared from the contemporary folk scene while musicians like Mick and Paul are still around to carry forward that tradition.