Chris (Yorkie) Bartram of Shreds and Patches
reviews Parallel Strands by Martin Graebe & Shan CowanReason number one to buy this CD - Most of the songs are from the lost collections of the great Victorian collector, Sabine BaringGould.
Reason number two - The overall presentation is beautifully sung and superbly recorded.
Reason number three - The musical accompaniments rank among the finest I have ever heard.
When our esteemed editor asked me to review this CD, I accepted for several reasons, not all honourable! For a start, I know Martin and Shan as part of a group of singers and musicians with whom I have had some very enjoyable sessions but I have not always considered their singing as my sort of thing. However, they do sing some unusual songs and I thought this CD might be an opportunity to learn some of them (Not the most honourable reason for reviewing a CD, I know). Martin is a leading expert on the songs collected by Baring-Gould and, more recently, Shan has also been involved in researching manuscripts that were only fairly recently discovered in Plymouth. Their approach to folk music is very different to mine. Their singing style is precise and beautifully articulated with clear diction; in pub sessions they rarely forget the words or stumble over tunes; they always treat the songs with the utmost respect - all in all, not my sort of thing at all! But I like them as people and I love meeting anyone who is passionate about traditional music. Im not an academic or a musicologist but I believe we owe a great debt of gratitude to those who do such research on our behalf.
So I am very pleased to say that, on listening, I thought this was a really enjoyable CD. I use an mp3 player to listen to the best tracks from the dozens of CDs in my collection. As space is limited, I am quite ruthless about the selection - most CDs are represented by three or four tracks. This one achieved 11 out of 16. The singing is wonderfully easy to listen to; the words and tunes are allowed to speak for themselves with hardly any interpretation by the artists (You know, all that egotistical listen to me stuff you get from so many singers). The songs are given pride of place - thats why my reason number one is about the songs - and thats the highest recommendation I can think of for any CD of traditional music.
And the backing musicians are superb. Jeff Gillett is a singer/guitarist whom I have heard in pub sessions for many years but, to be honest, never given much attention to. This is, in part, due to my own prejudices about guitar accompaniments to traditional songs but also because he doesnt do anything that attracts ones attention. However, on a recording, this lack of flashy, attention-grabbing stuff is a very great asset. His style is so subtle and unobtrusive, Id played the CD several times before I noticed it. But once you notice it, his playing is utterly magical. I would recommend that anyone who wants to accompany traditional songs on any musical instrument should listen to this. For me, this was a truly delightful surprise. I was less surprised by the contributions of Paul Wilson, Paul Burgess, Barry Lister, Keith Kendrick and Paul Sartin (with additional vocals from Doug Bailey, Pat Turner and Lynn Heraud) as these are all well-known as top-rank musicians. Put them together; get the wonderful Doug Bailey to record and mix them and you have the most fantastic backing band.
As I said at the start, the musical arrangements are among the finest I have ever heard.
Look at the WildGoose website for a full tracklist. Very highly recommended.