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Colin Andrews of Whats Afoot

reviews Parallel Strands by Martin Graebe & Shan Cowan

Martin has a long established and well deserved reputation as a singer and writer of songs in the traditional style. Indeed Martin was a regular on the Exeter folk scene back in the 70s and early 80s and at the long defunct Sunday club at South Tawton. In recent years Martin has become the leading authority on the work of Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould in preserving the songs and music of the South?West, and particularly of Devon from the late 19th Century and early twentieth century. Since meeting Martin a few years ago at a Baring-Gould study week, Shan has also undertaken much valuable work in researching BaringGoulds sources and transcribing his collected songs.
I rarely play a new CD a second time immediately after the initial hearing, but I was so taken with several of the tracks that I couldnt delay hearing them again. Though Pd not heard Martin perform with Shan before, nor with accompanying musicians, rd expected a quality performance, but the choice of material, the delivery, the harmonies and the accompaniments (by Jeff Gillett on guitar & mandolin, Keith Kendrick on concertina, Paul Burgess on fiddle, Barry Lister on brass, Paul Sartin on oboe and Paul Wilson on accordion) all combine to make a truly impressive album.
The CD brings together some of Martins best compositions, such as Jack in the Green (inspired by the Rockbeare pub of that name) and From Severn by the Somme, and material from BaringGoulds collection that in some cases has not been heard for over a century. Apart from a little difficulty in catching the lyrics on Peters Private Army, the clarity of the vocals is excellent, and the accompaniment, where used, sympathetic and complementary, even unorthodox as in the use of granite and?slate slabs for the percussion on Stonecracker John. Ive always been attracted by the song Tobacco (Is An Indian Weed), whose origins go back to the Seventeenth century, but I dont think Martin and Shans duet could be bettered - a capella at its best! Their voices blend so well in harmony too on Jacky My Son a gentle yet strangely moving version of Lord Randall. I like the linking of the traditonal Sly Renard with Martins tongue-in-cheek Boxing Day hunting frolic.
I could write enthusiastically about many of the other tracks on this album. Maiden Under Willow, One Night at Ten oClock, and The Maid and Her Swain, followed by a guitar rendition of one of William Andrews hornpipes, all stand out as worthy tributes to Baring-Goulds work and to the efforts of Martin and Shan in breathing new life into the songs. But dont just take my word for it and buy the CD and give yourself a treat!.