Dai Woosnam of Dai Woosnam
reviews Floating Verses by Mary Humphreys & AnahataNow here is a duo with a keen eye for the resonant album title. Last time out they hit the bull’s-eye with the wonderfully punning “Sharp Practice”: surely they could not top that this time? And of course, they couldn’t.
But with the decision to opt for the title “Floating Verses”, they made a decent fist of coming close.
“Floating” verses, is their way of saying RECYCLED verses: which in turn is their reference to the way that certain songs can contain verses from other songs. Verses that arrive seemingly independently at the “new” song, and requiring only the most minimal alteration to fit snugly into both the context and narrative voice of the new vehicle. A coincidence? Or more than that?
In the quality liner notes (as usual for a WildGoose album, a cut above the norm of the music industry) we see Mary say rather tongue-in-cheek - “So in a fit of inspiration we have called the album after this coincidence”.
Well, the first thing to say regarding that, is that to give an album a title in a fit of INSPIRATION strikes me as an improvement on the usual CD-title-choosing habit of plumbing the depths and grabbing the most absurd phrase to hand, in a fit of DESPERATION.
So hats off to this duo for their title choice. But they should be warned: in me they encounter someone with a bit of a prejudice against the very concept of recycling. I recall once reading that for every job you create in the world of recycling, you throw three people out of work in the hard “real world of business” out there.
And I don’t like adding to the unemployment figures.
But, that said, I have to tell you that this Reviewer was won over by their bold foray into the world of recycling. Their penchant here for selecting some rarely-performed variants of well-known traditional songs, really pays dividends in providing a well-balanced album that builds on the considerable appeal of “Sharp Practice”. True, there is no astonishing revelation presented here as there was with their last album and that exquisite song “When Fishes Fly”, but what-the-heck, please do not read that as adverse criticism. Songs like that one come around once-in-a-lifetime if an artiste is lucky (and even then it helps if they live long enough to almost catch Methuselah up on the rails!)
But from the sublimely jaunty “Green Grows The Laurel” (golly, it makes you feel you are back in The Ship in Blaxhall, with the chairman calling for “lovely order!”) all the way through to them signing off with a Hampshire variant of “If I Was A Blackbird”, the duo do not put a foot wrong. If the last album scored a 5.8 for both “artistic impression” and “technical merit”, then this one too is there or thereabouts.
Indeed, with one track, it succeeds in doing the impossible (with me at least). I refer to track 6: “Maid Freed From The Gallows (Prickly Bush) Child No 95”.
Now, this is a song I first encountered in the 1950s. It used to be played almost as staple fare by Uncle Mac on BBC Radio’s “Children’s Favourites”. It was a recording by the late and very great Marjorie Westbury. (Now there was a woman! A major talent if ever there was one. Best known as Paul Temple’s wife/sidekick in the drama series, she was also a divine singer.) And yes, she had a trained voice, but she did not make the usual mistake of other trained singers in deciding to sing traditional English folk song like she had a feather stuck up her fundament!
And that record would be played almost every Saturday. As I recall, it featured a girls’ school choir from Bristol. And with that glorious voice of Marjorie Westbury’s fronting their sound. It was the first recording of an English traditional song that really grabbed me, and made me fall in love with the Tradition.
But that has had mixed results. Whilst it invited me into a relatively secret garden with a host of colourful flowers to be investigated and enjoyed, it also meant that all other versions of that song were “found wanting” when compared to that Westbury damascene experience.
However, the fact is that I listened to that so-nostalgic song here on this album, and for the first time ever, I did not have an overpowering craving for the Westbury “original”. And that is to the credit of this duo: for the truth is that even acclaimed versions by The Watersons and Nic Jones have still made me hanker for the sweet harmonies of those Bristolian lasses.
I cannot end the review without a word on Anahata’s authoritative cello playing. It lends real gravitas to the proceedings: and these proceedings are given added chiaroscuro by the innate musicianship of Dave and Gina Holland on fiddle, flute and recorder.
Although it is only a quarter way through the year as I write this (and thus very early days), I will be surprised if at the end of the year, this CD does not figure in the shortlist for my Top Five albums of the year. If it doesn’t, then it surely will mean that it will have been a sensationally good year.