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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews BitterSweet by Bob & Gill Berry

BitterSweet is the first CD to be recorded by Bob and Gill, even though theirs is a singing partnership of long standing. For nearly half of that 20-year timespan, theyve also been the principal organisers of Chippenham Folk Festival, and both play key roles in Devizes Folk Club (which they themselves started in 1992) and within the eight-piece group Tinkers Bag.

Their close harmony singing displays an evident strong and sensitive musical bond, with each truly supportive of the others voice yet also completely naturally allowing the other to shine (or dominate) where necessary for the expression of the song, the effective communication in performance of which is paramount (as it should be). Bob and Gill present an interesting choice of songs from both within and outwith the tradition, yet unsurprisingly the latter almost always have a strong feel of the traditional.

Although both Bob and Gill are highly competent singers in their own right with attractive voices, you may well respond first to the material rather than the singing or performance aspect, for initially the actual delivery of the songs isnt what you notice, simply because it isnt to any significant degree specifically attention-drawing. Except possibly, that is, in the matter of Gills use of vibrato (more evident on some songs than others, it must be said), which although an integral part of her technique can at times make her tone seem just a little fierce (bitter, perhaps) and thus some listeners may find it takes some getting used to. But again, first impressions can lead your ears down false trails, and in truth I ended up liking almost all of this CD a lot  and more than I expected to after the initial playthrough.

Not least because it introduced me to some absolutely superb songs that Id not come across before (always a good test!): Suffer Little Children is a curiously effective (and economic) song from the pens of two members of the group Heritage, while John Pullens Revels Day really does convey the lively atmosphere of the Box (Wiltshire) village custom. Opening the CD, theres a fine driving rendition of John Prossers stirring anthem Englands Glory that proves more than a match (sorry!) for any rival version in my book (!), which contrasts with the broody Calum More (by Andy Mitchel), another fine composition on the time-honoured theme of a womans extraordinary suffering within an ordinary existence. I also really liked Bobs atmospheric take on Chris Leslies powerful Winter Man. Amongst the traditional fare, Gills solo tour-de-force is the awesome ballad Brown Girl, while Bob turns in a notably well-poised rendition of Fair Flora; while jointly their May Dew is a joyous pleasure to discover, as are Gay Green Gown (which it turns out Bob and Gill got from the singing of our own Graham & Eileen Pratt), and the duos creative harmonising on Toms Gone To Hilo. Finally, Bobs mother Barbara is remembered in performances of two of her songs, the beautiful, if anguished Fisher Lad Of Whitby and her lovely, sweet setting of I Wandered By A Brook-side, while the CD closes with the reflective, definitively bittersweet Alan Bell Song Of Time, a chanson-like creation written in honour of both of Bobs parents and here blessed with an aptly plangent klezmer-like arrangement.

Which leads me to my final observation: that Bob and Gill have taken on board a small coterie of musical collaborators who really complement their own performances (this seems to be a hallmark of all WildGoose recordings, where the labels boss and producer Doug Bailey seems to have the knack of showing the featured artistes off to their best advantage). In this case, its the stalwarts Keith Kendrick (concertinas), Pete Harris (bass guitar), Anahata (cello), Paul Sartin (fiddle, oboe) and Jo Veal (clarinet) who do the honours. A very attractive CD, attractively packaged.