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JR of Andys Front Hall

reviews Sharp Practice by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

A sweet-voiced lady singing traditional English songs accompanying herself on the banjo? Well, comparison to Shirley Collins is inevitable, perhaps, and certainly there are similarities. Mary Humphreys has a sometimes plaintive, very fluid voice that lends itself well to her material, and her style of fingerpicked banjo is certainly similar to Collins, but you would not mistake the one for the other. Mary is a veteran of the English folk scene, and here, with her partner Anahata, she has produced a delightful album of folk music, subtitled Rarities and Renovations from the English Tradition.As well as banjo, Mary plays English concertina and keyboards. Anahata does not sing, but he adds anglo concertina, melodeon and cello into the mix. As the title suggests, many of the songs come from the collection of Cecil Sharp. There are well known songs in less familiar versions, such as The Mermaid, The Carrion Crow and Barbara Allen, this last beautifully accompanied with just the cello. These intermingle with tune medleys, and more unfamiliar songs. I had not heard When Fishes Fly (No My Love Not I) before, but it is a poignant ballad on the faithlessness of men. “When fishes fly and swallows die, young men will prove true; there’s a herb in my father’s garden, and some do call it rue.” Here, versions from Sharp’s English collection are collated with a Newfoundland text for a more complete version. The result is quite lovely.Songs are segued into tunes, and there are a number of free-standing tune medleys, mostly led by concertina or melodeon. Like the overall feel of the album, these tunes are not played raucously, but in the gentler style of the older musicians from whom many of them were collected. Sometimes the instruments are double tracked for effect, and occasionally fiddle or flute is added, but the overall mood is quiet and reflective. To end the CD, an East Anglian waltz is segued into The Faithful Sailor Boy, a Victorian tear-jerker on which Mary double-tracks her vocal in the chorus. I have enjoyed this song since it was recorded by Oak many years ago, and here it brings a very thoughtfully and lovingly conceived recording to a satisfying conclusion.