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Jacqueline Patten of Whats Afoot

reviews Tide of Change by Tom & Barbara Brown

After spending part of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend following the procession of The Hunting of the Earl of Rone, a North Devon tradition revived by them, Tom & Barbara Brown were very much in my mind when I turned to the North Devon Festival programme to find that on 6th June they were to give another presentation of This Farming Life. The pleasure of sitting down to write this review is, therefore, enhanced by the knowledge and first?hand experience that Tom and Barbara have taken the traditions of the region to so many people. Their enthusiasm inspires others in a way that few people manage.

'Tide of Change' is their third album. As before guests support them instrumentally and vocally, the arrangements, however, ensure that the song, the story and the tune are of paramount importance rather than the performers' prowess. The balance is maintained while the talents of Anahata on cello, Joan Holloway on bones, Keith Holloway on melodeon, Ralph Jordan on concertina, bouzouki and mandolin, Barry Lister on tuba and Paul Sartin on fiddle with Lynne Heraud and Barrv Lister on chorus vocals, give subtle backing to Tom and Barbara's renditions. It is worth listing the guests as an indication of the quality of the album. In order not to let a perfect opportunity pass, in the sleeve notes they confess that they could not do a CD without including the Hypothetical Band', so on the penultimate track, Rusty ol' Knife followed by The March of the Men of Devon, this fine array of musicians give their listeners licence to tap their feet, dance and laugh, the enthusiasm of the 'band' is infectious.

As referred to above, the versatility of Tom and Barbara is far-reaching. The tracks on this CD are similarly diverse. The material is drawn from a variety of sources with songs taken from the collecting of Cecil Sharp and Peter Kennedy complemented by recent compositions by Eric Bogle, Paul Wilson and Hilary Bix as well as traditional ones like Barbara Allen.

The attention to repertoire and presentation is evident. The opening song Sound of Singing is an apt beginning and one of the strongest tracks. The traditional ballad Barbara Allen is sung unaccompanied by Barbara; as it is preceded by Cluster of Nuts and followed by Bread & Cheese & Cider, the audience is not in a melancholy mood for too long. In a similar way When Mother & Me Joined In follows the haunting Song of the Flail. Tide of Change a recent composition from Hilary Bix, summarises the underlying theme of the album, while the regional songs, Bampton Fair (Paul Wilson) and Bridgwater Fair (collected by Sharp) provide a 'tour' of the West Country.

Listening to the album for the first time I warmed to it, listening to it a number of times that initial appreciation has grown and will continue to do so, I am sure.