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Paul Burgess of The Living Tradition

reviews The Axford Five by The Askew Sisters & Craig Morgan Robson

In the spring of 1907, folk-song collector George Gardiner started working in the Northeast corner of Hampshire around Preston Candover, and eventually noted no less than 164 songs in the district. This is a selection of songs he found in the repertoires of five of his best singers – all women. Many CDs embarking on this sort of project end up with well-performed, worthy, interesting but lifeless results. No such problem here! New life is breathed into some wonderful material by some scintillating performances.

Surprisingly, there is only one solo unaccompanied offering, Sarah Morgan’s beautiful delivery of A Famous Farmer, and although several items are performed by the two “units”, it is the combination of forces which produces a sum greater than the considerable parts.

The instrumental arrangements from the Askews (fiddle, melodeon and gothic harp – gothic harp?! I bet Gardiner didn’t find many of them in early 20th-century Hampshire! Sounds good though) are beautifully judged, never over-elaborate, but really lifting each song. The album has a good mix of song types, from the ballad (Long Lankie) to the bawdy (The Trooper’s Horse) as well as several points in-between.

Superb singing and playing combined with excellent research and sleeve notes contrive to produce a wonderful album to really lift your spirits. I hope to see this line-up doing much more of this sort of thing – both at Festivals and on record.