Chris “Yorkie” Bartram of Shreds and Patches
reviews Dusty Diamonds by Martin & Shan GraebeI won't beat about the bush. This is, by far, the best CD I've heard from "revival" singers this year (I'm writing this in December 2008). In case you're wondering - the best "source" singer CD is Nimrod Workman's but that's for another review.
This is a superbly well-sung and well-presented collection of songs from the manuscripts of Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp. There's also a couple of songs written by Martin though very few people would be able to spot which they are, as he is so good at writing in traditional forms.
Martin is one of the world's leading experts on the work of the Victorian collector, Sabine Baring-Gould and, for the past 15 years, he has been working on manuscripts housed in Plymouth Library. This has resulted in a number of songs being presented here for the first time since they were collected Some are variants of songs that are well known but, as they point out in the sleeve-notes, "the differences give them freshness and renewed charm". In particular, the version of a very widely-known song called The Shooting of His Dear, / Molly Vaughan / The Fowler and here called The Setting of the Sun, is breath-takingly beautiful. The story is told with delightful simplicity, with only hints of the supernatural elements that are more evident in other versions. But it's the tune that really makes the difference here. This tune is the finest I have heard with a sublime lift at the start of the chorus - "In a shower of rain as my darling did run all under some bushes, the shower to shun". I know I've said it before but I'll say it again - this track alone is worth the price of the CD. It is fabulous.
Martin has a quietly expressive voice with none of the flashy tricks that so many singers adopt. Unfortunately, this means that he is likely to be under-rated by people who are used to the flashy tricks (and particularly, those that are impressed by the breathy, over-emotional Mid-Atlantic whimperings of the Britain's got X-Factor Pop Stars crowd). I have to admit, I wasn't immediately impressed when I first heard Martin sing but, now that I have got to know him, I would put him high on my list of favourite singers. Shan is a more obviously "good singer" though she does not overshadow Martin at all - in fact their harmony singing is a wonderful example of mutually complimentary styles. On this CD they are accompanied on several tracks by Keith Kendrick, Sylvia Needham, Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll. Again, there's no flashy tricks - just excellent, appropriate and supremely listenable musicianship. This CD SHOULD win awards but, I'm afraid it is unlikely to. The performers are not young and attention-grabbing; there's no jazzing-up of the arrangements; it's full of solid values such as restraint, affection and dedication (and those values seem to be considered out of-fashion by the telly generation.) However - my advice to anyone that values real old-fashioned quality - give yourself a treat and buy this CD.
The sleeve-notes contain lots of information about the songs. You can read and download words and music from their website www.martinandshan.net.