Tim Hoke of Green Man
reviews Return Journey by Dave Arthur with Pete Cooper & Chris MoretonWild Goose Studios is a label dedicated to English music both old and new, with a strong bias toward the traditional. So why release a CD of mostly American old-time music? Dave Arthur explains it in detail in the insert, telling how many of the songs originated in Britain and survived in North America, albeit often with changes. Now, Arthur, living in Sussex, is playing some of the American variants, hence the return journey. On the return, Arthur has combined some of them with British melodies, partly to illustrate the kinship of the traditions, and no doubt partly because they sound good together.
Dave Arthurs voice has a weathered sound that makes it easy to imagine him sitting by a fireplace, singing these ballads of an evening. He accompanies himself on banjo and also plays some melodeon and guitar. Joining him on Return Journey are Pete Cooper on fiddle and viola, and Chris Moreton on guitar. The interplay between the musicians is one of the discs strongest points; it sounds as if these three have been playing together for years.
Arthurs banjo playing is rhythmic and driving. He tends to play simply while singing, letting the song be the focus. The slow Little Margaret is supported by rippling arpeggios, and the jaunty Did-Na-Do is accompanied by a strumming that sounds almost Dixieland in style. A couple of speedier songs, like Harrison Brady and Rattle on the Stovepipe, have the banjo doubling the vocal melody. On the instrumentals he gets more intricate, without sacrificing any drive. His guitar work, too, is driving; listen to the droning, almost drum-like guitar on Downfall of Richmond or the Martin Carthy-esque playing (and singing) on American Stranger.
Coopers fiddle is wild on the fast tunes (Old Molly Hare) and sweet on the slow ones (When He Cometh). He shows considerable sensitivity to the music when playing behind the voice, droning, shuffling, and accenting without drawing attention from the song. Moretons guitar rounds out the sound beautifully; his timing is solid and he embellishes the melody with several tasteful bass-string runs. He gets in some good solos, too; Shermans March and Pushboat are two that stand out.
For reading enjoyment while listening to this disc, Arthur has provided some extensive and well-researched liner notes. Background for the songs and tunes is given in detail; perhaps more detail than some would care for, but for others it makes for fascinating reading.
Return Journey is good music; the sort for sitting back, putting up your feet, and maybe singing along.