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Mary Humphreys of Mardles

reviews Through Lonesome Woods by The Askew Sisters

I remember the first CD the Askew sisters made while they were still at school. It had about 6 tracks - it was a present from their father, Bob Askew. I thought that they were pretty good then, showing considerable inventiveness and artistry. Not surprisingly they have gone on to develop phenomenal skills on their respective instruments (melodeon and fiddle) and Hazel's voice has acquired both flexibility and maturity. They both are highly trained and accomplished musicians in the classical genre, yet they are firmly grounded in folk traditions both through their own involvement in Morris, sessions and festival-going and also through their father's involvement in song research. This shows through in everything that they do.

This CD has a rich mixture of Morris, English Country Dance Music and Playford tunes along with Child Ballads and other songs collected from singers long ago by George Gardiner, Cecil Sharp et al. The manuscript sources of the songs and tunes are rigorously detailed in the sleeve notes something which is very rare these days when so many performers repeat songs they heard from other recording artists without bothering to go back to the original sources.

The CD starts with a very atmospheric version of Saturday Night, a morris tune from the Longborough tradition which you would find it impossible to dance to, but never mind that - it soon becomes a hauntingly beautiful and rare song - Through Lonesome Woods. The rhythmic accompaniment of the melodeon is amazing - it sounds as though there is a drum beating. I would love to know how Andy Bell, who did the recording, managed to get this effect.

Their Playford tunes are glorious. The tune arrangements are complex, yet never hide the essential melody line. There are times when it is hard to believe that there are only two instruments playing. I am pretty sure that Vaughan Williams would have approved of their treatment of the traditional tunes. The transitions between the tunes in the medleys is nothing short of brilliant. I loved their 3/2 set, Walsh's The Presbyterian being a tricky old thing to play. No problem for these two!

The sisters allow the melody line to shine through in every track, the voice never once being subservient to the accompaniment. I particularly liked The Bonny Bows of London Town - a version of The Two Sisters. The fiddle accompaniment is unsurpassed in any other recording I have heard, and the fact that the song is sung by two sisters adds a frisson of reality to the performance, particularly when they duet as the song progresses.

This album deserves to be a sell-out. It is definitely the best I have heard from the "new wave" of folk artists. If you get the chance to see the sisters locally - please go. I know that they are at the Milkmaid in Bury St Edmunds on October 1st. Book your ticket now!