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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews The Passing Hour by Mick Ryan & Paul Downes

The fourth duo album by singer Mick Ryan and musician Paul Downes follows the bynow well-established pattern, combining a healthy quotient of songs from Mick’s own pen (seven this time, including one co-written with Paul) with a choice selection from other writers and three comparatively rarely heard traditional songs.

Mick and Paul are justly regarded as among this country’s very finest folk performers, and so the hour passes lightly, for the listener is made to feel as much at home in their company as Mick and Paul evidently do themselves. Paul’s dextrous and sympathetic guitar and banjo playing proves such a superb foil for Mick’s sturdy, brilliantly controlled singing, whatever the mood or message of the song. And on their latest recording they also variously engage three extra musicians – Jackie Oates (five-string viola), Kate Riaz (cello) and Martyn Bradley (concertina) – who sensitively but tellingly embellish the tapestry on a number of the songs in a perfectly judged and entirely apposite way.

Highlights of this new collection are traditional-sounding opener The Midshipman’s Boast (a Helen North composition), an affectionate song of farewell Adieu, Old Friend (by Steve Thomason), and three quite different but equally thought-provoking warthemed songs (Thankful Village, One Day and, best of all, the a cappella Last Will). Elsewhere the emotional barometer swings from fond lyricism (the disc’s title number) to porcine ribaldry (The Parson And The Pig and favourite live set closer Oh! Swine!) via the sprightly gait of Bartholamew Fair, while The Sea is a revival from Mick’s 1998 folk opera The Voyage. As ever, Mick and Paul’s choice of material is nigh impeccable, well suiting Mick’s expressive capabilities. It can of course be taken as given that both men are on top form here, and their partnership continues to demonstrate the wholly natural rapport that has carried them through close on a decade of collaboration both on disc and in live performance. No change there, then.