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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews Just Another Day by Tom and Barbara Brown

The West Country duo’s latest CD has a simple enough premise, outlined in its subtitle –songs old and new collected in, or written for, the town of Minehead.

Its nucleus comprises a dozen songs collected by Cecil Sharp over a century ago from two retired Minehead seacaptains (James Vickery and Robert Lewis). Within the sequence of these is tucked a shanty (Heave Away My Johnny) for which Tom provided new words as part of the 2014 Minehead Harbour Heritage Project, while neatly bookending the entire set is a pair of songs written by Tom and Barbara themselves specially for this project, concerning themselves with the Edwardian era (A Minehead Lad) and World War 2 (the title track, set to the Lili Marlene tune) respectively.

We can always rely on Tom and Barbara to come up with a fresh angle on song repertoire and Just Another Day is arguably their most stimulating collection to date. Each of the songs is solidly researched, with loving attention to detail, and performed with a characteristic warmth. The diversity in the material might surprise, for it’s by no means exclusively maritime in theme, and we find some particularly interesting variants or perspectives on songs or tales we thought we already knew backwards (The Lark In The Morning, Franklin, Spanish Ladies and Greenland Fishery being prime examples). Perhaps the most familiar item is The Bonny Bunch Of Roses O, here given a sterling reading by Barbara which highlights both the Browns’ skill in instrumental arrangement and the excellent support playing which they command, with oboe, fiddle, cor anglais, anglo concertina, hammered dulcimer, flute, whistle, cello and mandolin used selectively and to really good effect. (Paul Sartin, Keith Kendrick, Jon Dyer, Anahata, Brenda Burnside and Matt Norman, with Barry Lister and Mary Eagle are among those swelling the ranks.)

Even so, the sheer strength of Tom and Barbara’s own singing is paramount and the disc’s three purely a cappella tracks are expectedly splendid; I especially enjoyed Hunting Of The Hare. Yes, for a spirited and committed tradition-based collection with thought-provoking content and superb arrangements you just can’t do better.