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Joan Crump of EDS

reviews Fenlandia by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

With a title like Fenlandia, it will come as no surprise that the inspiration for this CD comes from the Cambridgeshire countryside that Mary Humphreys and Anahata call home. Songs and tunes collected locally by the blind folk song collector Ella Bull make up much of the material, with a couple of Welsh tunes thrown in for good measure (Mary cannot forget where she comes from, after all). The liner notes, which give insight into both Ella's collecting and the singing of her subject, Charlotte Dann, make for interesting reading. But it's the music which naturally takes centre stage, and it doesn't disappoint. The jolly songs are very jolly indeed: 'The Nutting Song', 'Elwina of Waterloo' (described as `The Mills and Boon version of the Battle of Waterloo'), 'The Hungry Army' (which is given a subtle topical twist) and 'We'll be All Smiles Tonight' all feel readymade for a session singalong. But there is also a good contrasting selection of ballads. I particularly enjoyed 'Lucy Wan', performed unaccompanied here, and sung with a very light touch. 'Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor' is also beautifully sung, but accompanied by the banjo and cello. The cello makes another appearance on 'Polly Vaughan' again, a very light touch and simple arrangement, which lets the song shine. It's always a delight to hear really sensitively played cello in folk music ? something about the depth of sound, which you simply don't get with the smaller stringed instruments, sits perfectly under the voice, enhancing without overpowering. Not that Mary's voice would be easily overpowered: she has a vocal style that many younger folk singers could learn from. It's refreshing to hear a woman using the full range of her voice to such good effect, and not restricting herself to the sort of pretty?pretty head voice singing that's currently quite popular. That's what lends the diverse songs here their variety and colour. Fenlandia is a really enjoyable CD: solidly traditional songs and tunes, interesting background material which gives context to the music, and lovely singing and playing. What more could you ask?


Joan Crump


See EDS Summer 2006 for a feature on Mary Humphreys and Anahata, Ella Bull and Charlotte Dann.