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Derek ‘Giff’ Gifford of Derek ‘Giff’ Gifford

reviews Parallel Strands by Martin Graebe & Shan Cowan

I first met Martin Graebe a few years ago at the National Folk Festival where he was lecturing on the travels of folk song collector Sabine Baring-Gould - in Iceland of all places! It was obvious then that Martin had extensively researched the life and times of that esteemed Victorian gentleman.
It is no surprise, therefore, that this is a recording of a number of his collected songs as well as some of Martin’s own compositions - and there’s the rub - when I last chatted to Doug Bailey of Wild Goose about the two CD reviews I was completing he advised me not to read the sleeve notes of this one until after I’d listened to it. I can see (or hear!) why. There is no indication on the track listing on the tray of the CD of whose songs are which ( hence the CD’s title, of course) and, unless they know Baring-Gould’s collection inside out, I defy anyone to identify which are from the collector and which are Martin’s own. Only the final song Laying My Life on the Line is obviously ‘modern’ both in terms of lyric and a rather bluesy tune and understated guitar accompaniment. The only one that I knew was Martin’s was the excellent Stonecracker John which I have heard him and others sing before. A mark then of Martin’s ability to write ‘traditional’ songs! Many of the collected songs are being given their first recorded outing so this CD acts as a collector’s archive as well as for its own sake.
The performances are very well executed and Martin’s clear, tonal voice is complemented delightfully on many of the tracks by Shan Cowan’s subtle harmonies. The arrangements are also imaginative particularly on Jacky My Son. Martin sings solo on one of the most powerful of his own compositions the evocative From Severn, By the Somme.
Not content with just unaccompanied songs, Martin has enlisted the help of some fine musicians including Wild Goose ‘regulars’ Paul Sartin and Paul Burgess on oboe and fiddle respectively. Even me old ‘mucker’ Keith Kendrick gets a look in with his usual panache on both English and Anglo concertinas while Jeff Gillett adds tasteful guitar and mandola accompaniments on a few tracks. Barry Lister adds occasional ‘interesting bits’ with tuba and trombone as does Paul Wilson on accordion and percussion the latter of which includes granite and slate! Finally additional vocals from Barry, Doug and duo Lynne Heraud and Pat Tuner are provided on the Cornish carol, Rouse, Rouse.
So why not rouse yourself from reading yet another of Gifford’s reviews in this edition of FolkNW and find time to order a copy of this superb CD from WildGoose