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Elaine Bradtke of EDS

reviews Cold Fen by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

This is the duo’s second album of songs and tunes from East Anglia. Mary Humphreys researched the songs, gathered from various manuscript sources, and attempted to compensate for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ annoying habit of not taking down the words if they were commonly known or available on broadsides. On one happy occasion, she discovered the tune for ‘There is an Alehouse’ in RVW’s manuscripts, and the text (from the same source singer) in Lucy Broadwood’s papers. The result in other cases may not have been what was originally sung, but it’s certainly singable.

Mary Humphrey’s voice brings clarity and warmth to the songs and both performers are skilled instrumentalists. Some of the tunes were found in the manuscript book of William Clarke from Feltwell, Norfolk, including a lovely pair of waltzes on track five. They use a lot of overdubbing in order to take advantage of their multi-instrumental talents. ‘Cello, concertina, guitar, banjo, melodeon, and even smallpipes, provide a rich and varied sound, without being overly fussy. That said, one of the most compelling tracks is the unaccompanied ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’ featuring a particularly beautiful melody.

The overall feel of the recording is subdued. Most of the songs are rather mournful, and even some of the tunes have a melancholy air. The mood is lightened with ‘La Poole Quadrill’ [sic], a delightfully bouncy melody, paired with ‘The Recruiting Officer’ both executed on various forms of button boxes. They finish off with a rollicking version of ‘Rosemary Lane’ with a rousing chorus, backed by the bright sound of a single-row melodeon. Cold Fen is a well-crafted recording with a flavour of the fenlands, and meant to be savoured.