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David Dolby of Mardles

reviews New Road to Alston by Dave Townsend and Gill Redmond

Two musicians who have worked together for some years, according to the booklet, and who must by now have reached near perfection in their performances, have produced a disc that is well worth listening to, to say the least, and which is quite difficult to fault. "New Road to Alston" is a mixture of songs and tunes with concertina and 'cello, played by Dave Townsend and Gill Redmond respectively, a cornucopia of music gathered in the main from old manuscripts which are becoming increasingly popular.

The songs range from the downright desolate Captain's Apprentice to the relatively jovial, if not desperate, Rolling in the Dew, and they all have sensitively constructed and not overpowering accompaniment. The Shepherd's Song is sung to the tune Dives and Lazarus a shepherd's anthem in praise of sheep tending or drinking, or both. The Vaughan Williams collected tune for The Lousy Tailor has here been matched to a broadside text printed by Harkness, and is worth comparing with the version sung by Mary Humphreys on "A Baker's Dozen" (Treewind TWD014) to see how the folk process is alive and well. Here are examples of familiar tunes with different words, and they are none the worse for it.

And then there are the tunes. There is some sort of magic going on here. The playing is precise and exciting, there are some very interesting arrangements and the "fiery improvisations" must have been carefully practised and polished. But it's more than that. Listen, for example, to the track Boroughbridge Rant, Berwick Lasses & Love
Forever to hear how these two play for and with and off each other. It's not all high octave antics: the three Swedish tunes and the slightly strange Shaker tunes display control and thoughtfulness. Sometimes the transition between tunes in a set feels somewhat forced, as between the two Irwin tunes (played in the keys found in the manuscript, I believe) and between the title track and Trip to Cartmel.

It's a criticism that can be forgotten when taking in the whole disc, for it's almost as though we are being treated to master classes in the arts of English concertina playing articulate fingers, phrasing, harmonies and how the 'cello can and should be used for more than mere accompaniment down at the deep end. This is a production that is robust, delicate, flyaway, solid, but not necessarily all at the same time, and, above all, delightful.

March 2013.