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David Gregory, Athabasca, Alberta. of Canadian Folk Music

reviews Parallel Strands by Martin Graebe & Shan Cowan

Martin Graebe is the leading scholarly expert on the life and work of the late Victorian clergyman, novelist and folksong collector Sabine Baring?Gould. He has also written (and performs) his own songs in the English acoustic folk tradition. His partner, Shan Cowan, is a very fine singer of both traditional and contemporary material. On this CD they have come together as performers to showcase both aspects of Martin's work, hence the title Parallel Strands. So we find on the CD eight songs composed by Graebe and nine traditional songs collected by Baring?Gould in the English West Country during the 1880s and 1890s.

Two of Baring?Gould's most prolific informants were John `Ginger Jack' Woodrich of Thrushleton and Sam Fone of Mary Tavy, both hamlets on the fringe of Dartmoor. Fone is represented here by "Tyburn Hill", a variant of the execution ballad "Jack Hall", and "One Night at Ten O'Clock''. Woodrich was the source for "I Had Two Ships", which Graebe believes shares a common antecedent with "The Prisoner's Song", popularized between the wars in the USA by Vernon Dalhart. He also sang "Jacky My Son", a version of the traditional ballad "Lord Randal" (Child # 12), and it is included here, as are such other traditional songs noted by Baring?Gould as "Lavender Green", "Sly Reynard", "Maiden Under Willow" and "The Maid and her Swain". "Rouse, Rouse", although it also falls in the `traditional' category, is a Cornish carol, while "Tobacco", a popular and much reprinted broadside from the Restoration Era, was probably composed by the poet George Wither circa 1670.

The only one of Graebe's own songs with which I was previously familiar was "Jack in the Green", but on the evidence of this CD he is obviously a versatile and accomplished songsmith. 1 like his songs about different ways of earning a living: "Stonecracker John" about road?building, "Laying My Life on the Line" about railway track maintenance, and, above all, "Honiton Lace" about the life of a Devon lace?worker. But the stand?out song for me is undoubtedly "From Severn, By the Somme", a moving ballad that Graebe sings unaccompanied about a nurse killed in Northern France during the Great War.

There is a myth that English traditional music has less vitality and worth than Scottish or Irish folksong. This CD should help dispel that myth. Although difficult to find, it is well worth the search.