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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews Susie Fair by Maggie Sand and Sandragon

This attractive-voiced singer has already released three solo albums in Germany (two in collaboration with Mark Powell), and for her fourth she brings an exotic new flavour onto the WildGoose menu. Maggie's special musical interest is the creative blending of English traditional songs with the stance, gait and instrumentation of the mediaeval and Renaisance-era music. This description may lead you to expect something like Anthems in Eden, with a hint of Amazing Blondel, but what you hear on this disc probably has more of a kinship with the modern-day minstrelsy of, say, Pint and Dale or Maddy Prior and her Carnival Band than the rarefied Shirley and Dollie intensity or the more experimental Gryphon edge.

Maggie and her musicians (playing hurdy-gurdy, recorders, crumhorns, flute, harmonium, mandola, cittern, guitar, bouzouki, percussion) make a bright, lively and busy sound, which, in consort with its typically hi-energy, dance-bedecked treatments (interposing salterello, estampie or jig as appropriate), will, by its nature, suit some songs better than others. For example, The Banks of Sweet Mossom and Cob-A-Coaling are irresistible, as are the discs two items of French origin (although Maggie's a bit cheeky sneaking a snatch of Grieg into the nonsense song A La Porte Au Palais!) What may count as a stumbling block for some listeners (I run the risk of generalisation here, but it's not a criticism) is that Maggie's musical aesthetic tends sometimes to make her interpretations feel more setting-driven than text-driven, the words seeming at the service of the musical arrangement and idiom rather than the other way round. Rigs Of The Time might be judged too jolly for its message in this regard- but then it's great fun. Having said that, Maggie makes the right decision to employ a more restrained and sombre instrumental complement for Bushes And Briars, while her trouvère-ballad-style treatment of Rosebud In June is not inappropriate (although on the latter, along with If I Were A Blackbird, Maggie might appear to mildly over-indulge her ornamentation skills).

In all, Maggie has produced a stylish, entertaining and fresh-sounding record that provides an interesting twist on the interpretation and performance of traditional song. The key is to acknowledge and celebrate its differences from the standard approaches to this material, and on those terms I found myself readily warming to the charms of Maggie and her Sandragon consort (Mark Powell, Malcolm Bennett, Anthar Kharana and guests Will Summers and Will Hughes.)