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Colin Irwin of fRoots

reviews Dumnonia by Jim Causley

After his recording and touring adventures with Under One Sky, Mawkin and David Rotheray, Jim Causley returns home musically and figuratively to celebrate the music of Devon (the Dumnones were a Celtic tribe who lived in the south west between the Iron Age and Saxon times).

It's a project that's clearly close to his heart and, singing in a more relaxed and varied manner than on any of his previous work, it shows. His remarkable delivery of the tragic Royal Comrade over his sinister accordeon drone ¬reminiscent of the devastating
simplicity wielded by Tony Rose on a big ballad is evidence alone of a new strength and maturity only hinted at on his previous solo albums.

He's gone out of his way to avoid the usual populist material associated with Devon and he's done a thorough job of it too, coming up with some little known beauties. The great West Country song collector Rev Sabine Baring Gould is well represented from the engaging opening track When I Was Young to the knockabout story The Tythe Pig but, as with Royal Comrade, there are also unfamiliar localised versions of well known songs. There's a beautifully restrained, slightly eerie Georgie; a waltzy frolicsome She Moved Through The Fair which segues into Germany Clockmaker; a surprisingly thoughtful Game Of Cards which gives a completely different emphasis on what is usually a bawdy gallop; and a gently infectious version of the carol WaileyWailer, singalong chorus and all.

More plus points include a couple of songs by one of the region's greatest songwriters Cyril Tawney Tamar Valley Requiem and In The Sidings both highly charged reflections of loss (on the decline of the tin mining industry and the despised Dr Beeching's infamous axing of railway branch lines respectively) handled by Causley with commendable sensitivity. There's also a lovely Martin Graebe song, Honiton Lace, an upbeat unaccompanied The Old Threshing Mill and a couple of bouncy bankers with the drinking song Old Uncle Whiteway and the mildly contentious hunting ditty Exmoor Anthem.

What really lifts it, though, is the heavy involvement of the Dartmoor Pixie Band, whose close associations with the tune and dance traditions of Devon not only lend the album authenticity, they strike exactly the right chord of rugged charm and understated energy which brings the best out of both Causley and the material. The boy done good.