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Dan Willging of Dirty Linen

reviews Tenants of The Earth by The Mellstock Band

The tradition of English country dance bands dates back to when each village or town had their own band for community dances. Today theyre still non-commercial ventures who play solely for enjoyment at local barn dances and ceilidhs. This year the Bursledon Village Band (BVB) celebrate their 20th anniversary with this fascinating collection of polkas, jigs, reels, hompipes and waltzes played in the slightly slower Southern english style. The melodies are primarily carried by fiddles, melodeons and concertinas, while the rhythms are pumped out by a bass drum and tuba. Since this is dance music, there are no frontmen or dazzling soloists - the tunes are kept pretty straight. Overall, the BVB are quite enjoyable, not only in their conviction but in their impeccable timing, as well. As an extended courtesy for their dancers, many tunes repeat the melody eight times rather than the original six.

Similarly, the Mellstock Band play English 19th-century dance music, but extend their repertoire with songs and carols. Both bands find inspiration in novelist/poet Thomas Hardy and have borrowed numerous tunes from the Hardy family manuscripts. (The name Mellstock comes from the fictional name Hardy christened his native Stinsford in Dorset.) Where Mellstock differs from the BYB is that several of their instruments (clarinet, serpent) were built in the 19th century or replicated (oboe, vox humana) from the original models. The low frequencies are provided by the serpent, which sounds similar to a muted trombone. Mellstock not only capture the eras authenticity, but articulate the melodies balanced with intricate sets of counter-melodies. Additionally, Mellstock are particularly rousing on military marches Boneys Farewell and Newark Quickstep which, like the rest of this disc are not lacking any spirit.