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Shirley Collins of fRoots

reviews Return Journey by Dave Arthur with Pete Cooper & Chris Moreton

Dave Arthur has produced a CD thats an entertaining, informed and intelligent look at songs, ballads and tunes that crossed from the British Isles to the United States, `on the lips, in the fingers and in the hearts of generations of emigrants as he says in his excellent and witty sleeve notes. The transformations are fascinating, and sometimes surprising, the first track going straight for it with the Morris tune `Shepherds Hey becoming `Old Molly Hare. Its obvious once youve heard it. Well steeped in both the British and American traditions, Daves made a lively choice of material thats beautifully played by him on 5string banjo and melodeon, and by two master musicians, Pete Cooper on fiddle and viola, and Chris Moreton on guitar. Dave sounds very much at ease singing the American songs.
Theres a wide variety, too: Appalachian ballads including the compelling Harrison Brady (`The Gypsy Laddie), and `Little Margaret with its `Shady Grove tune, a hypnotic performance, and in common with every track on
this album, beautifully paced. I loved the very spooky `Oh Death which Dave says was inspired by Doc Boggs version, and `I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me which he learnt from Jeff Davis who had it from Connemaras Joe Heaney. Thus the songs go back and forth. Theres a couple of fine river boat songs, and a Canadian childrens play party song which may or may not have a more disreputable origin in lumberjack saloons ? and since Dave teams it with `The Cuckoos Nest we know what he thinks is the case!
The tunes are terrific, too, including a very fetching `Georgia Girl. The Irish `Dan OKeefes no.2 linked with the Virginian `Ducks in the Pond, a Civil War tune `Downfall of Richmond, and even one from 19 century Sussex, `Michael Turners Waltz.
If I had to pick a favourite track it would be `The Two Sisters which is quite heartbreakingly beautiful in its simplicity and restraint.
I was put in mind of lines I read recently in Jeffrey Eugenides remarkable novel The Virgin Suicides ` . . occasional fiddle evoked the country the country had once been. Dave Arthur succeeds in doing that with this album.