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Alex Monaghan of Folk World

reviews A Handful of Sky by Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll

A quintessentially English duo, this is not the sort of music I would usually review but their playing is so pure and their material is so unfamiliar that I couldn't resist. Wyke and Driscoll both play fiddle - in fact their website is EnglishFiddle.com - and their music comes mainly from around North Devon. This is their third album, not counting an early EP released in 2004, so they've been on the scene for a while, just not on my radar. What I like about A Handful of Sky is its reserve, its gentility: the music is "nice", perhaps too nice for some tastes, but it's rare indeed to find two such pleasant voices belonging to equally talented fiddlers. Between them the fiddles supply melody, harmony, rhythm and bass, almost all in a plain English style with just the occasional funky moment. Hornpipes, jigs, waltzes, airs and set dances come from old manuscripts and new adventures, with not an Irish reel to be heard, although one Scottish jig does sneak in. Most tunes are local, or local versions, that I hadn't heard before.

As well as seven sets of tunes, there are five songs here detailing the shadier side of English rural pursuits: robbery, adultery, infanticide, and even bellringing, but all in such good taste that Wyke & Driscoll can't even bring themselves to sing the word "balls". So, if you're in the mood from some relaxing English music, something to listen to while you read the paper or polish your handbells or pursue other English passtimes - or just as background music in the parlour when the vicar calls round - A Handful of Sky might be just the thing. The fiddling is unadorned but harmonious and tuneful, the singing is strong without being raucous, and the entire album is genteel enough for a garden party. Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll take a quite different approach to dance music and murder ballads than most English bands, which is quite refreshing, and their musicianship is impeccable.