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David Kidman of fRoots

reviews Won't You Come Away by Maggie Boyle

Maggie is rightly acknowledged as one of this country’s premier traditional singers, a song- carrier in the true sense who continues the tradition of music and story telling passed down through her London-Irish heritage. Although Maggie's been active on the scene for close on 40 years, and has contributed to many other artists' CDs in addition to collaborations with Steve Tilston and John Renbourn (and of course the wonderful Grace Notes), Won't You Come Away is only her third solo album (following 1987's Reaching Out and 1998's Gweebarra).

And yet, considering that Maggie's is one of those voices that can reduce a room to silence with an unaccompanied song (as l've been privileged to witness at sessions hereabouts), it's sad that there’s only one a cappella track on this disc - a spellbinding take on The Green Linnet. Having got that one disappointment out of the way, though, I should stress that Maggie's aptitude for engaging thoroughly intuitive supporting musicians is as noticeable as ever, and I wouldn’t for one moment under play their contributions. The sensitive and highly responsive nature of the accompaniment is arguably nowhere better demonstrated than on The Trees They Do Grow High. Central to the texture is the unflinchingly expert guitar (/mandolin/mandocello) of Paul Downes, arrangements often further fleshed out by Maggie's own flute, whistle or harmonium and Jon Boden's fiddle, with (more occasionally) Dave Wood's resonator guitar, Steve Tilston's arpeggione and Dave McKeown's clarinets, melodica or wind synth.

As far as repertoire’s concerned, there’s a certain degree of irony in that, for all Maggie's reputation as an exceptional exponent of traditional song, several of the disc's highlights turn out to be her magical interpretations of some very special contemporary compositions. A crowning jewel is Frances Watt’s Dawning, a joyous, ingeniously polska-skippery test of Maggie's proven vocal dexterity, whereas on Nick Burbridge’s Old Man’s Retreat, Maggie responds equally keenly to the song’s unique combination of serious intensity and lyrical beauty. Other successes include Steve Ashley’s Once In A While and the delightful Liza &Henry (penned by Joe Tilston, Maggie's son) - for which she supplies her own gorgeous harmonies - and a fresh minted, simple new take on Linden Lea (which Maggie first recorded, in a more fussy arrangement, on her 1996 duo album with Steve, All Under The Sun). There's also a spirited take on On Yonder Hill (from the singing of Geordie Hanna), and I don’t think l’ve heard a more beguiling account of The Spinning Wheel - delicately lilting and authoritatively considered, with the abundant expressive sincerity which distinguishes Maggie's performances throughout this lovely disc.