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Miriam Craig of EDS

reviews Nine Witch Knots by Rubus

This debut album from Rubus treads solid traditional ground, and its collection of eleven songs has clearly been recorded with great care, talent and youthful enthusiasm. The group has a definite individual sound, but it’s subtle – rather than giving the impression they would do anything to mark themselves out as different.
Emily Portman (voice and concertina) is a graduate of the Newcastle Folk and Traditional Music course and was a member of singing trio The Devil’s Interval; Christi Andropolis (fiddle, viola and voice) brings her American roots to bear on the ensemble; David Newey (guitar) has played both traditional and contemporary acoustic music at folk festivals and other venues; while PhD student Will Schrimshaw (drums) is a recent folk music convert.

The upbeat, faster-paced songs work best. ‘Cecilia,’ the story of a woman who tests her lover by dressing as a highwayman and trying to get him to part with her love token, has immediately entered my list of favourites –the arrangement brings new delights with every phrase.

Golden Ball,’ a variation of ‘The Prickly Bush’, rolls along happily, and ‘Willie’s Lady’ has a real sense of mystery and drama, reminiscent of a considerably toned-down Steeleye Span. However, slower songs such as ‘My Son David’ and ‘Greenwood Sidey,’ although beautifully done, don’t hold one’s attention in the same way, and tend to drag at times.

Portman has a beautiful way of adorning the melody with little twiddles and twists, her voice swooping into a speaking tone or veering off the note, Martin Carthy-style, in just the right way. But sometimes it feels like a stronger, more full-bodied voice could do more with the songs.

For those who like their young folk bands refined and sensitive, Rubus are highly recommended.