Duck Baker (Reading, England) of Dirty Linen USA
reviews Dusty Diamonds by Martin & Shan GraebeThe performers featured on these releases were all young when the folk boom was upon us, but all have had other careers and demands on their time that haven’t left much time for performing until recently. Now they are making up for lost time with these commendable releases for a label that has become possibly the champion of recording traditional English music.
Jack Crawford’s Pride of the Season is perhaps the most traditional of these titles in tone, if only because he’s a solo singer. Minimal backing is provided on about half of the tracks, and only hard-core listeners will know many of the songs chosen. For instance, Crawford covers Nic Jones’ brilliantly reconstructed “Annan Water” and does quite a nice job with it, but the same singer’s version of “The Ploughman’s Love” started Crawford on a long search for the fuller version provided here. Resisting the temptation to overproduction, label chief Doug Bailey has organized accompaniment that brings out the best both from Crawford and his material.
As its title suggests, Dusty Diamonds presents songs (or at least variants that have not been sung often at all. In fact, several seem never to have been recorded before. Martin Graebe has a special feeling for the songs collected by Sabine Baring-Gould, and this material dominates here, though the program also includes a couple of very traditional-sounding songs penned by Graebe himself. Again, accompaniment is minimal, limited to concertina and two fiddles, which are seldom all heard together. Shan Graebe’s vocals, like her husband’s, are free of affectation, true in pitch, and pleasing in tone. The Graebes don’t mind using harmonizations that are not at all by-the-book, which is all as it should be. Better living interpretations than lifeless attempts at “correctness.”
Beyond the Quay is Tom and Barbara Brown’s fourth release on Wild Goose, and it’s dedicated to songs with seafaring themes. This is a not a sea chanty record, but a collection of ballads, fishermen’s ditties, and Navy songs of various kinds. Both Browns are engaging singers and, again, where there is accompaniment, it’s tasteful and effective. This record succeeds largely on the strength of a program that holds together particularly well. A central theme helps (though it’s just as easy to wear the listener out with this approach as it is to help the cause), but the songs themselves are all excellent vehicles, and they complement one another beautifully.