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David Kidman of Folk Roundabout

reviews Dumnonia by Jim Causley

Fancy a round of Call My Bluff?: Dumnonia is neither an incurable affliction involving a total loss of voice, nor a term denoting the essence of elephants, but instead the south-western kingdom of the Dumnonii, a Celtic tribe from around and after the time of the Roman occupation, from whom the modern county of Devon derives its own name. It aptly betokens Jimís aim to shine light on lesser known songs from Devonshire: an entirely laudable aim, and one which he fulfils with consummate ease and an engaging, easy maturity. Jimís timely return to ďhome territoryĒ has been marked by recent touring with fellow-south-westerner Steve Knightley of course, but his stints with Mawkin and the Under One Sky combo have also clearly informed his performing stature in the intervening years, and his vocal and instrumental confidence seem to have grown apace in terms of identifying exactly the right amount of sensitivity with which to lace his interpretation of his chosen songs. A stunning example of this is his treatment of a pair of deeply reflective Cyril Tawney songs, In The Sidings and Tamar Valley Requiem, where he displays an intense empathy with the plight of the displaced workers that belies his tender years. Traditional balladry is also fast becoming Jimís forte, as his superbly pointed delivery of The Royal Comrade (effectively done to just a simple accordion drone accompaniment) demonstrates; in fact, here and occasionally elsewhere too, I was reminded of the poised assurance of Tony Rose in Jimís delivery, his own brand of what I might call genial gravitas. A different kind of assurance shines through Jimís treatment of Martin Graebeís wonderful composition Honiton Lace, also the familiar ballad of Georgie, which sports a rather unusual minor-key tune, while Jimís way with lighter material like Little Ball Of Yarn is most fetching (helped along nicely by the jolly skitterings of The Dartmoor Pixie Band, who also contribute suitably authentic rustic ďsqueezing, plucking and vocalsĒ to a handful of other tracks including a supremely cheeky waltz-time account of She Moved Through The Fair and a sprightly, footloose account of Exmoor Anthem). Elsewhere on the album Jim enjoys further fine support from Jeff Gillett (guitar, mandola), Nick Wyke & Becki Driscoll (fiddle, viola, cello, lyre and vocals) and Pete Flood (percussion), and some lusty chorus singing from Tom & Barbara Brown, Jackie Oates, Joe Sartin and Doug & Jennie Bailey (notably on the acappella Old Threshing Mill). Mention of so many comparatively familiar songs thus far should not deflect from my observation that the bulk of the remainder of Jimís selection delves into the more obscure local byways of West Country song, including many collected by Baring Gould. Jimís liner notes amplify some of the stories behind the songs, focusing also on the fascinating way the songs had migrated, morphed and become localised on their travels, and the attractive artwork is typical of the labelís approach in its astute reflection of the discís contents. A thoughtful and well-presented collection that will Iím sure prove a milestone in Jimís career.