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Barry Callaghan of EDS

reviews Sharp Practice by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

So who needs another Barbry Ellen? I hear you ask... Well, you do, if its the one off Mary Humphries and Anahatas collection of English tunes and songs. Mary sings the Louie Hooper tune, collected by Sharp in 1903, with solo cello accompaniment, and its a performance that makes you glad youre alive. And the rest of the album isnt far behind.
The CD isnt exclusively Sharp?based ?indeed only four tracks are from that source; but the title indicates the deep involvement in the English tradition that both of these musicians have. Its an eclectic collection, and the notes to the album make clear the deep personal attachment they have to the pieces. Songs come from East Anglia, Child, and Newfoundland, while the tunes are from Playford to recently?composed. Marys voice is well?suited to big songs such as the ballad (Sheath and Knife) and When Fishes Fly: in the notes she acknowledges the influence of Chris Coe, and one can pay her no higher compliment than to say that it shows ? though thats not to say that she isnt her own singer. She has indeed a particular richness to her voice that is her own.
Anahata is a proper musician: got a full control of his instruments (melodeons, anglo concertina and cello) and deep understanding of the music, but manages not to lose the essential raunchiness and energy. The accompaniments to the songs (including contributions by Mary on banjo, keyboard and English concertina, and guest appearances by Dave and Gina Holland) are emotional and relevant; the tune sets are in fact pretty technically accomplished, though youd be forgiven for not noticing, as the attention is always on the music rather than the playing. Lovely to have the Stoney Steps set recorded: thrilling music.
Sure, there are unevennesses... Mary has a torchy sort of voice, and sometimes when she downscales to songs like Carrion Crow, with a jolly sort of accompaniment, the feel gets a bit close to `a folk song on childrens TV Im sure this works with audiences, but feels a bit lost on CD. Same applies to the Dunmow Gallumph tune, which even after several listenings I cant feel is up to the Danbury Hill which follows it. And the one?row melodeon playing doesnt quite catch the East Anglian crispness in the final track. But these really dont detract from the enjoyment of the whole.
Mary and Anahata are currently developing a presence on the club and festival scene, and this CD gives a pretty good ideas of the range of material and style that they are presenting. An album to treasure, and an act well worth catching.