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David Kidman of The Living Tradition

reviews Outway Songster by Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne

The term “outway songster” was coined by Broadwood and Fuller Maitland in their 1893 publication, English Country Songs, to define singers who “not only sang favourite songs but also actually invented new ones themselves”, and Cohen ably illustrates this concept on his debut solo CD (he’s previously recorded as a member of acclaimed trio, Granny’s Attic, with George Sansome and Lewis Wood). He demonstrates considerable drawing-power as a captivating, bold and striking solo performer and an astounding musical maturity (unbelievably, he’s still in his early 20s!) that’s way more than just the overwhelming first impression of “old head on young shoulders” that he unavoidably gives. His finely skilled box playing (melodeon and anglo concertina) is both sensitively judged and engagingly rhythmic, while his sturdy singing voice appears effortlessly fully formed, in character both traditional and individual and with an enviable easy assurance and a marked consistency that nevertheless well avoids any potential charge of stylised mannerism.

Even at this early stage of his career, Cohen has already mastered the art of sympathetic self-accompaniment that remains at the service of the song yet while unobtrusive never degenerates into auto-pilot or routine. In this regard, he’s learnt much from his teacher and mentor Pete Coe, while other clear role-models include long-established exponents of the art such as John Kirkpatrick, Steve Turner, Tony Rose and Brian Peters. His way with a major ballad such as Tom The Barber, for instance, is exemplary and forms a highlight of the album, as does his a cappella rendition of Edward, while his fleet-footed-yet-legs-apart dispatch of the disc’s tune-sets fair invites the listener onto the dance floor (you can tell Cohen’s in regular demand playing for dances!). The Kirkpatrick brand of charismatic ebullience is well in evidence on The Country Carrier and Thomas Holt (a variant of The Devil And The Feathery Wife), whereas his technical mastery of box dynamics is especially to the fore on the Barbados/Jamaica set and the nifty concertina showpiece set Harrogate Quadrille/Newcastle Station. And, entirely befitting the “outway songster” tag, Cohen’s gift for reworking traditional sources is showcased on his re-composition of the Ripon Sword Dance Song.

Cohen’s already rapidly eclipsed “name to watch” status (I could say he truly “outways” most of the competition!), and it’s a tribute to his extraordinary talent and presence that he can carry the weight of a purely solo record without the listener feeling the need for any extra musicians or singers.