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Colin Andrews of Whats Afoot

reviews Sharp Practice by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

Ever since I heard Mary & Anahata live at Bideford Folk Club and reviewed their first CD (Through The Groves) earlier this year, I have been looking forward to their new release on the WildGoose label.
There is nothing fancy or affected in Marys style of singing, but she manages to convey her love of these traditional songs with a warmth and passion all too rarely seen amongst guest artists in folk clubs today. She has a knack of finding interesting variants of familiar songs ? the opening track, The Mermaid, being one such; a delightful minor tune and a happy ending that contrasts to the lively chorus version in which everyone drowns ! The Carrion Crow, collected by Cecil Sharp, is also not the most common version. The accompaniments to the songs ? on banjo from Mary and with cello, anglo concertina or melodeon from Anahata ? are all well thought out ? sympathetic and appropriate, enhancing the song, rather than distracting ones attention. Listen to Barbry Ellen or When Fishes Fly (one of my favourites on this album) and the cello adds poignancy and incredible atmosphere.
Their first CD included a couple of instrumental tracks, but this album has an even split between songs and tunes, several tracks pairing the two ? Young Banker, for example, leads naturally into a Dave Wallace tune, Rosie. Mary joins Anahata in various instrumentals on English concertina or keyboard . The Marmalade and Jenny Bell Polkas are great foot?tapping tunes, and the technically more tricky tunes, Dumnow Galumph & Danbury Hill are inspiring (I dont think Ill get my fingers around them for quite a while !).
I could enthuse at length on practically every track, from Child ballad (Sheath & Knife) to musical hall style, double?tracked Faithful Sailor Boy , or the other instrumentals. This album, for me, presents songs as they should be sung, and tunes as they should be played. Ive only one criticism ? a standard length album is not enough to satisfy my desire for more of each ! Hopefully WildGoose will release another before too long.