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Nigel Schofield of The Living Tradition

reviews The Passing Hour by Mick Ryan & Paul Downes

Not counting their work together on Mick's folk operas, this is the duo's fourth album together. The previous three were all assured, comfortably disquieting, eminently listenable sets. This continues and consolidates that trend. Paul is the ultimate accompanist a masterful guitarist, who also contributes some impressive banjo (see the opening and bonus tracks in particular), vocals and piano. Mick is a fine singer with a fine eye for detail and a great ear for a good song. These two strengths are the foundation of their album's power.

Mick's own wonderfully crafted songs (eight of the 13 tracks are songs drawn from right across his writing career) sit alongside imaginative readings of traditional songs (three here, including an aptly swirling rendition of Bartholomew Fair with reeling viola from Jackie Oates) and little known gems of songs written from within the tradition.

One has a real sense of Mick and Paul sitting in a folk club (perhaps waiting to play their headline slot, perhaps just part of a singaround) and hearing a singer come out with a song they know they have to share with a wider audience for example, Helen North's Midshipman's Boast, Steve Thomason's exquisite Adieu Old Friend and, especially, the sublime and deeply moving All At Sea by Tom Lewis, enhanced by Martyn Bradley's achingly maritime concertina.

A highlight is the eminently singable title track, which anyone who has been part of a musical occasion is guaranteed to relate to, pearls of observation threaded with Kate Riaz's deft cello.

And special mention must be given to the bonus track a laugh out loud porcine singalong that draws inspiration from Lark Rise.