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Rob Weir of Off Center Views

reviews Wight Cockade by The Dollymopps

If you’re sick of all things slick and heavily produced, here’s the antidote. The Dollymopps are a trio from Britain’s Isle of Wight who specialize in reviving old songs and singing them unaccompanied in three-part harmony. Their work is evocative of other English “old songs” revivalists such as The Watersons, the Copper Family, Young Tradition, and John Roberts and Tony Barrand; that is, an eclectic mix of a cappella songs that evoke sea shanties, village folk songs, the music hall, choral groups, and the early Folk Revival. The Dollymopps–the name comes from slang for normal respectable working girls that did occasional solicitation when money was needed–are built around the reedy tenor and soprano of Virgil and Dorana Philpott and the bottom bass of Justin Smith. Theirs is hand-cupped-to-the-ear full-throated singing–often in minor keys and frequently sporting unusual chord changes and unexpected harmonies.

Wight Cockade contains songs to tunes familiar to old songs fans but as the album title suggests, in versions favored on Wight, the English Channel island off England’s south-central coast. If, for example, “The Isle of Wight” sounds really familiar, it’s because it’s a 1916 version of a song sometimes sung as “Adieu, My Lovely Nancy.” For those who know little about the Isle of Wight—read, most North Americans–there are several Percy Goddard Stone (1856-1934) poems set to music, including the delightful “The Recruiting Sergeant.” To know Stone is to know about Wight; he was both a renowned dialect poet and a leading architect whose work remains scattered across the island. Every song on Wight Cockade is both a story within the song, and another of where the song came from. The latter is well told in the album’s succinct but informative notes. The songs include those culled from Lucy Broadwood (1858-1929), whose collections inspired the creation of Britain’s Folk-Song Society. Do you know the Isle of Wight because of Bob Dylan’s 1969 comeback concert? Draw a straight line from Broadwood to Dylan, as her work sparked the British Folk Revival, which inspired the American collectors who inspired the folk revivalists who inspired Dylan. (Got that? In other words, Dylan is Broadwood thrice removed.)

This is a deliciously old-fashioned album. It does, however, demand close listening and it’s not for all tastes. If you need your music processed, heavily backed, and coming at you with mirror balls at 128 beats per minute, steer clear of the shoals. This is music for peasant clothes, a peat fire, and a mug of real ale.