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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews Crux by Crucible

This youthful yet mature Sheffield four-piece brought forth its debut CD, Changeling, in 2003; it was very good indeed, but Crux indisputably represents a giant leap forward into the front ranks. But first lets clear up any misunderstanding: Crucible was formed, essentially, to focus on singing English traditional song; ostensibly to provide an outlet for that side of the members talents and proclivities not addressed through their parallel membership of ceilidh bands. Crucible is not, however, to be regarded as a poor-relation second-string activity, for each of the four, while a strong and very capable instrumentalist, happens to be a damn fine singer with a grasp of, and commitment to, the song repertoire that would put many a specialist song?based ensemble to shame.
Crux is expertly named, for Crucible reach to the heart of the matter, displaying both an acute intelligence and thoughtful musicality in so doing, bringing guts and attitude back into the music. They have always exhibited an unshakeable confidence in their singing and playing, but even this has been stepped up a few notches, especially in the organic way the ensemble work defines and develops the internal voicings (voices particularly, but also instrumental lines) within any given setting. Their new-found confidence in using studio facilities is apparent too, as is the additional layer of expertise and attack born out of 18 months of hard gigging and road?testing innovative and adventurous musical arrangements.

Not to mention the evident grass?roots level hard graft and research into the sources: Sorry The Day I Was Married combines the tune normally associated with Gan To The Kye with a text that creatively conjoins existing fragments and additional verses taken from Halliwells Nursery Songs And Rhymes. Theres the strange and powerful, though almost wilfully obscure Old Horse, alongside an interestingly altered rhythm version of Fair Maid Walking. Ron Angels defiant Chemical Workers Song proves an unusual but effective contemporary choice once youve got used to Crucibles melting-pot of equally unorthodox harmonies. These are often spine chilling, for there is no over pretty harmonising, theirs is more the forthright, in-yer-face approach to singing, and the rough edges and often discomforting tones are symptomatic of a deliberate decision to sing it with balls. Unlike many other song-based ensembles, each of Crucibles four singers is vocally an equal in terms of overall strength, and they blend together extraordinarily well; this enables them to ring changes which keeps the mix constantly fresh and exciting, and theyre willing to experiment. The album also contains three purely instrumental tracks, each one strikingly different in character.

So, summing up, Crux is a CD that anyone interested in the future health of English folk music should hear. It communicates the four individuals commitment to the music, and their enthusiasm tempered with good sound sense. They take the trouble to thoroughly credit their sources, and while they take their music making seriously, they clearly have great fun doing so. Crux is definitely one of the key folk releases of 2005.