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David Kidman of Folk Roundabout

reviews A Handful of Sky by Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll

A Handful Of Sky is the third full-length album from this excellent West Country-based fiddle duo, and their second for WildGoose. As well as working in this format, of course, each of them has been branching out into other areas of musical activity Ė Nick working with Gadarene, Jackie Oates and Jim Moray and researching the fiddle music of his native North Devon, and Becki running workshops for Wren Music as well as playing for and with The Angel Brothers.

This is another of those CDs whose basic lineup belies the diversity of delivery and expression to be found within its grooves, for itís definitely not just the dry-sounding combination of two fiddles, however attractively they may be heard to consort! The range of tonal blends they conjure is clearly derived from years of working together, knowing and responsive, while their own arrangements are also invariably configured for maximum musical interest, mindful of each musicianís particular qualities (Nickís characteristic driving force and Beckiís gift for melodic invention.

As well as the standard fiddle, both Nick and Becki play viola, while Becky gets to air her talent on the bassoon on a delicious pair of South-Western hornpipes (track 5). Some tracks also benefit from a solid rhythmic bedrock supplied by James Buddenís double bass. The purely instrumental selections comprise two-thirds of the dozen tracks, but it may come as a surprise to discover that the vocal numbers produce some of the disc highlights. Beckiís precise, slightly chilling delivery of a Dorset version of The Cruel Mother provides an unexpected high watermark for the album; also very much present on this track, and on the chiming vocal duet The Torrington Ringers, is the delightful French horn playing of Ellen Driscoll (who I believe is Beckiís sister). Becki also charms the listener on her rendition of The Exmoor Ram which rounds off the disc in suitably bouncy ďjolly sing-alongy chorusĒ fashion.

All of the instrumental tracks possess that distinctive sense of complementary presence thatís a hallmark of the Wyke-Driscoll musical partnership, and itís hard to single out any one selection for special praise, but I especially enjoyed the set of jigs (track 2) that concludes with the defiantly non-English Cock Of The North, and the invigorating Prince Of Arabia (track 11). This well-balanced disc will doubtless bring much pleasure to lovers of finely coordinated playing and singing.