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merely reproducing fiddle tunes in ‘the usual’ shape or format. He retains a strong sense of continuity of folk tradition while embracing modes of arrangement more akin to modern- day classical music. His chosen accompanists play oboe, bassoon, cello, concertina and occasionally vibraphone, and Ian Stephen- son’s supportive guitar makes an appearance unobtrusively driving along some of the album’s tracks. Robbie’s homage to his native Potteries is cemented by his borrowing of a theme from the landmark first symphony (The Gothic) by that region’s composer Haver- gal Brian (an underestimated figure in 20th Century English music if ever there was one).

Robbie’s own playing is always carefully considered, and yet it’s also often shot through with a feeling of almost gleeful abandon, as on the decidedly sprightly Moot- ed Jigs set, while not without a certain demonstrative flair. Finally, Robbie also treats us to two songs, and though he’s clearly not developed this skill to the same extent as his instrumental prowess, the songs – Old Wood- en Plough and Oxford Murder – are certainly worth exhuming, and Robbie makes a good case for them.

Any listener picking up this album in search of traditional-styled fiddle playing will have his/her expectations confounded – but in a thoroughly stimulating way. David Kidman THE FRETLESS

Live From The Art Farm The Fretless TFCD004

The Fretless are an innova- tive, multiple award-winning Canadian acoustic quartet of fiddles, violas and cello whose origins lie in Berklee College of Music (Boston, Massachusetts). They com- bine traditional Irish and Scottish traditional music

with jazz, bluegrass and classical chamber music, distilling these disparate ingredients into a single musical sound that is distinctive- ly their own. This, their fourth album, is an exploration of traditional Irish tunes record- ed in front of a live audience, using only three microphones. You can hear the buzz and yelps of the crowd, and the spontaneity that feeds the performance of every tune. You can absolutely feel the atmosphere of the live concert on this CD. Fans of the Natal- ie Haas/Alasdair Fraser band’s recordings will be sure to enjoy the way this music is pow- ered and driven by the sonorous percussive grounding of Eric Wright’s cello.

The Fretless certainly weave their own particular magic with Irish traditional tunes, and bring to the material the different musi- cal influences that they have in their locker. In these arrangements, the playing styles flit effortlessly between Irish traditional, Ameri- cana, jazz and chamber classical. Try the heady mix of bluesy jazz, Irish trad and cham- ber classical in The Killavil Fancy (hear it on this issue’s fRoots 69 compilation) and Holton Alan Moore’s.

The sheer poise, polish and energy of this music make it sound like a classically- trained fiddlers’ rally held in Nashville: try Star Monster (The Star Of Munster) or the Bixie’s set or the Miss Thornton’s set. And yet The Fretless never lose sight of the beauty of Irish traditional tunes: the poignancy of their rendition of Fáinne Geal An Lae (The Dawn- ing Of The Day) makes it one of the standout tracks on the album. Paul Matheson WILL POUND

Through The Seasons: A Year In Morris & Folk Dance Lulubug LULUBUG004

Will was born into a dancing family and says that he has been “involved with morris and folk dance since I was born”. He is, of course best- known for his virtuosic har- monica playing which has already brought him a flurry of top awards but on this

release it is his melodeon that is more to the fore. One of the outstanding tracks is a solo performance of the Kirtlington version of Trun- kles which shows his inventiveness and consid- erable technique which can add to a tune so often played in a straightforward manner.

His musical partners on most tracks are Benji Kirkpatrick and Ross Grant, and as this is being written the three are on tour along with storyteller Debs Newbold presenting a show associated with the album as a cele- bration of the year in folk dance with archive film and photos to enhance the live performance. The tunes encompass tradi- tions from the Cotswolds to Papa Stour in the Shetlands with stops in the Welsh bor- ders, the North West, the Molly dancing of East Anglia as well as taking in rapper and longsword dancing. The rhythmic idiosyn- crasies required of each tradition are brought out and there is even the delightful footwork of the Newcastle Kingsmen recorded to illustrate playing for rapper.

On two tracks we hear Will playing alongside John Kirpatrick and what a combi- nation that makes! As you might expect, John is involved in playing a border morris tune Not For Joe. They also share a lovely tune that was once a favourite for Carnival morris played by a brass band, The Liberty Bell March though Will sounds regretful in the notes when he writes, “even if the music for Carnival morris has changed out of all recog- nition since this was first used”.

A final track to mention would be the one where Will combines with Eliza Carthy for a lovely romp through The Nutting Girl.

Hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 69 compilation. Vic Smith Dom Flemons DOM FLEMONS

Presents Black Cowboys Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW CD 40224

Mention the phrase ‘singing cowboy’ to folks of a certain age and chances are you’ll evoke happy memories of Saturday morning cinema watching the heroic exploits of Roy Rogers & Trigger, and Gene Autry “drifting along with the tumbling tumble-

weeds”. Yet beyond the dated Holly wood fantasy, a more insidious fiction still persists. As Professor Mike Searle noted in a 2010 NPR interview (quoted in the CD booklet) “Many people see the West as the birthplace of America. If they only see it as the birthplace of white America, it means that all other peo- ple are interlopers – they’re not part of what makes an American.” But the cowboys were (and are) an ethnically diverse bunch – white, black, Mexican (‘los vaqueros’ being the origi- nal cowboys) and Native American. Many of the songs compiled by John Lomax in his 1910 book Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Bal- lads were collected from black cowboys.

In singing these “songs from the trails to the rails” and telling the stories of the people who sang them, Dom Flemons – ‘The Ameri- can Songster’ acts as educator, documentari- an and (as anyone who’s seen him perform will testify) a consummate entertainer. Sup- ported by a compact crack squad of old-time and country blues musicians (including Alvin Youngblood Hart), Flemons whoops, hollers, yodels, croons and recites his way through iconic songs like Home On The Range and Old Chisholm Trail and lesser-known vintage material, while his own original compositions (One Dollar Bill, He’s A Lone Ranger, Steel Pony Blues – the latter on this issue’s fRoots 69 compilation) sit comfortable alongside songs by Lead Belly and Henry Thomas.

Released as part of Smithsonian Folk- ways African American Legacy Recordings series, with excellent booklet essays by both Flemons and University of Arizona Research Associate Jim Griffith, Black Cowboys pro- vides both important historical background and much-needed present perspective, while being as much fun as a Saturday morning pic- ture show. Steve Hunt

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