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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews All in a Garden Green by The Askew Sisters

After winning the New Roots competition in 2005, Emily and Hazel released a 'taster' EP, impressing with their upfront, though always respectful take on the English tradition. Since then, they've been dubbed "the sisters of stomp" (even tagged a "female Spiers & Boden"), no doubt principally due to the infectious pumping energy that characterises their performance, although there's a certain attractive journalistic convenience to that epithet, and sure, their basic instrumental combination (fiddle and melodeon) provides a ready-made direct comparison, but it's just as well that the sisters' own personal musicality and dynamism proves strongly individual.
Indeed, you might well find the invigorating nature of their music all the more surprising bearing in mind that both sisters are classically trained (flute, piano, cello, recorder), so playing for dance sides has evidently fostered their vigorous, lively, rhythmically conscious style.


The breezy robustness of their musicianship is demonstrated in the joyous way the two parts switch around, colluding and colliding during the course of a tune set, adeptly maintaining listener interest while keeping feet tapping. But the sisters' proven instrumental skills are only half of the story, being thrown into relief by Hazel's bold, assured, abundantly confident singing voice, which appears on all but three of the disc's fourteen tracks, which represent a well-chosen selection of traditional material, generally in interesting versions. This includes a stirring reworking of High Germany, an urgently driven A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded, a plaintive Bedlam City (shame this is only a fragment), a sensitive Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear, and a delightful traditional Northumbrian lullaby (that's the bonus track).


Only The Lover's Ghost is sung unaccompanied - it's a wise choice, even if Hazel's interpretation may currently lack the full gravitas that a deeper understanding will in time bring. Aside from a slight tendency to over-aspirate at times, and an element of forcing the humour on Three Drunken Maidens, Hazel can't do wrong, while Emily's selective use of vocal harmonies is effective. Though the sisters demonstrate their awareness of contemporary styles of playing traditional material, they put their own stamp on everything they do, even if there's a feeling that they're not yet fully pushing the envelope: give 'em time!