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EB of Sing Out

reviews From the Vale by Chris Bartram & Keith Holloway

The Vale, of the White Horse is south and a little bit west of Oxford, and is named after a large white horse carved into the chalky hillside. Bartram and Holloway have steeped themselves in the local musical traditions, and recorded a collection of some of the regions dance tunes, songs and texts. Their love of and respect for the repertoire is immediately evident. The recording has a cheery, relaxed ambience, as if a group of friends were sitting around swapping tunes. The performances include vocals, melodeon, and fiddle with the occasional addition of various other bowed and plucked strings, percussion and double reeds. One of the strong points of this recording is the clear, honest approach of the arrangements ? nothing too high tech or flashy to spoil the cozy mood. However, they could have eased up on the echo effect on some of the songs. The liner notes include reminiscences about how and where the music was learned.

Some of the dance tunes they picked up through their involvement with the Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers. A gorgeous version of Shepherds Hey, filled out with an extra fiddle part, is paired with the lively The Squires Dance with its strong resemblance to the Jenny Lind Polka. Later in the recording we hear the Abingdon version of Jockie To The Fair, featuring some powerful bass chords from the melodeon. The songs tend to be humorous, often with bawdy overtones. Six Nights Drunk recounts the story of a fellow who staggers home to find suspicious goings on, but is very nearly taken in by his wifes adulterous deceptions. You can almost see the poor fellow scratching his head in gin?soaked confusion, when confronted with such things as a pair of carpet slippers that look like hob?nailed boots, or a very large newborn babe with a face full of whiskers. The Two Takes The One is a convivial song with words that make little sense, but are easy to sing (probably a very useful trait for a drinking song). Another song celebrating the joys of a good drink is The White Horse Shepherd. It is sung to a mournful version of the tune known to many as Star The County Down. On first listening, one might think this was a tragic lament. In reality, the poor shepherd is bemoaning the fact that there is no ale upon the hill, where the stormy winds do blow. These days, England seems to be overrun with musicians anxious to play Irish, French, and even Cajun music instead of their own home grown styles. Thank goodness for Bartram and Holloway, who have the good sense to recognize the value of their local traditions.