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Dai Woosnam of The Living Tradition

reviews The Waiting by Issy & David Emeney with Kate Riaz

Issy & David Emeney are a married duo based in the Mendip Hills of Somerset. David plays guitar, bouzouki and bodhrán, and sings in a most pleasing way. It is a voice that could help a fitful child get off to sleep and could charm the birds at 50 paces: and it’s thus the sort of voice that really finds its true metier in these songs.

For the songs (largely written by Issy) are essentially sweet and harmonious numbers, that whilst they often deal with sad subject matter, lend themselves to sweet singing. And trust me, these are two very sweet singers indeed. And Issy has a lovely lyrical approach to her concertina and melodeon playing, to boot.

But, just as a restaurant critic can describe the décor, the service, the prices and the clientele, sooner or later he must eventually come to the heart of the matter: the food.

Likewise, we can beat about the bush all day, but in an album that is predominantly self-penned (albeit, always using melodies that are simpatico with the best of the English folk tradition), we eventually have to come down to the crunch question: are the songs any good? Well, how can I answer that? Let me try by first “damning with faint praise”, and firmly say that none of them are bad. (And before you say “well of course they would not be!”, let me disabuse you of that notion. For the fact is, that I have over the years, reviewed many albums featuring songs written by major names, and these have occasionally been songs so lacking in wit and memorability, that the writers should have been ashamed of them.)

No, the songs here are sound enough. They are aided by lovely cello work throughout, from Kate Riaz (I could have done with her sound level a notch or three higher on several songs), and very good liner notes (a hallmark of Doug Bailey’s label). And it’s not just songs: there is the occasional instrumental too. The best of these is Lark Rise on the later album. Issy had hoped the BBC would use it in their Lark Rise To Candleford, but they turned it down. More fool them. Fortunately, Ashley Hutchings (please note, WildGoose, not “Hutchins”) showed more sense than “Auntie Beeb”, and has recorded it.

But, let’s come to the question that the reviewer should always ask himself, viz. would I buy these albums with my own hard-earned money? And the honest answer here is, “I might”. And if I did, one song on each CD would clinch it for me.

The first album contains a song called Bedtime which wonderfully captures the problems of getting kids off to sleep, just when you are tired yourself and want a little R&R in front of the TV, or else some gentle conversation with one’s spouse. And the second contains a really sublime song called Song For A Young Man. A lament for their daughter’s boyfriend, who died in his sleep at just 15 years of age. David’s harmony line on the chorus nearly moved me to tears. It is a song which is simple and honest and makes your heart ache. And you cannot ask for more from a song than that.