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David Kidman of Living Tradition

reviews Floating Verses by Mary Humphreys & Anahata

Ooh, I just so love this CD! I’m almost embarrassed to say how special it
is - but why is it so special? Well, firstly because Mary and Anahata are so
very special as performers, with a wonderful proficiency on their chosen
instruments (between them, concertinas both English and Anglo, various
melodeons, cello and banjo), but also - and this is so important - a feel
for, and commitment to, the repertoire that’s second to none. And secondly
because their choice of material is first-rate, guided and determined by
inspired research processes. If that idea sounds at all dry or academic,
then forget it - you won’t find anything remotely dusty in these
performances, which are a sheer delight from start to finish. Mary and
Anahata have always specialised in finding unusual variants of songs and
tunes from the English tradition, and taken deep joy in bringing them back
into circulation. That deep joy is so very tangible on this CD that its
every note is shot through with unbridled enthusiasm for the words and
music. It gives us 55 minutes’ worth of an inspired collection of “recycled
and reclaimed verses from the English traditional repertoire”, with some
expertly recycled tunes thrown in for good measure. The punning title of the
CD, in keeping with their first (Sharp Practice), cheekily reflects, in a
veritable “fit of inspiration”, both the duo’s lovely sense of humour and
their dedication to scholarship - which they prove can be great fun as well
as highly interesting. Qualities which, of course, permeate through to the
performances. For example, there’s both an earthiness and a genuine verve in
Mary’s singing, an intuitive response and a natural expressiveness that
bears no trace of artificial cadence. Just sample her gleeful relish at the
distinctly racy suggestiveness of Hares On The Mountains, or the cathartic
quality of the triumphant “release” in the final verse of Maid Freed From
The Gallows (aka Prickly Bush) - a rendition which even surpasses the
recent, sterling Spiers and Boden version, if only because the tune Mary
uses is more interesting! I simply haven’t space to give honourable mention
to each standout track (every one a gem, as they say!), but I need to point
to another delicious facet of this CD, which is that although virtually
every song chosen might be considered well-worn within traditional
performance circles, and many songs contain verses which have been almost
endlessly recycled from other songs, each and every rendition and/or variant
emerges absolutely fresh from the exercise in Mary and Anahata’s hands -
quite an achievement in this age of stale recyclings. The CD’s actually
awash with felicitous little discoveries, surprises at almost every twist
and turn; but I bet you’ll not be prepared for the shock that opens track
13 - the sound of a guitar! The hypnotic, almost dulcimer-like tones of an
instrument belonging to Chris Amos, one of three guest musicians on the CD -
the others being Dave and Gina Holland, whose fiddle and recorder in consort
bring a wondrous, kind of carnival-ceilidh-band ambience to several of the
tracks. These include two of the three tune-sets which punctuate the songs,
notably the superbly infectious northwestern hornpipe set (track 8) and the
jaunty renaissance treatment of the Purcell dance (track 3). The final
surprise is that of a full-chorus, multi-tracked Mary which greets our ears
on If I Were A Blackbird to round off this landmark CD. It really is one of
the most joyous CDs I own; if you’re ever going to buy just one CD of
traditional English music, then this must be the one - honest!