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Alex Cumming and Nicola Beazley Alex Cumming and Nicola Beazley
Album: Across The Water
Label: Haystack
Tracks: 10

Traditional and unwavering in its method, "Across The Water" pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to do in Alex Cumming and Nicola Beazley's debut album which it does so with a certain amount of relish and joy. Joined by Evan Carson (Bodhran/Percussion), Matt Downer (Double Bass), Naomi Rowland (Cello), and Pete Ord (Guitar, Percussion, Vocals) there is a lot of added talent beneath the surface of the album that shines through on a number of different tracks that weave a reverence of history and personal musical learning.

They aren't afraid to tackle some relative antiquity and bare their traditional teeth here which will leave fans of the traditional with a warm glow in their hearts. Their rendition of "Bold Fisherman" harkens back to Cumming and Beazley's folk recital from their University finals and brings it up to date as a natural follow on from their self-released EP tracks, "Orange in Bloom/Mount Hills" and "Bold Pirate." Fans of these tracks will similarly be captivated by the intense, pronounced, accordion that is accompanied by the heavy deliberate quaking strings that make the earth (and probably your speakers) appear to move. It feels quite epic as a result, and Beazley reveals delicate backing vocals that much like a navy dirk is quite surprising and piercing in delivery.

From the opening of the album, the recognisable track "Bonny Ship The Diamond" (Roud 2172 G/D 1:11) along with the the pastel shades of the fish and the sea on the cover give the impression that the album is decisively nautical in subject and gives no quarter. It might seem like it as Cumming squarely calls others to "cheer up my lads" as much less land-locked musician than in reality but this initial character is not the ultimate written gospel of all sounds and meanings within the album."Streets of Forbes", for example, is a solemn, minimal recital of an Australian folk song totally separate from the sea, the only flicker of this image being conjured by the instruments of choice. It works for the same reason that several of the tracks on the album do. Cumming's voice communicates a solemness and a lament; he actually sounds like he has led a life witnessing such tragedies and misfortune. It is sad with a rumble, an earthly rumination and quietness compared to the first motivating and driving song. While overall it is rather classical in scope, there are great elements of nuance to be found within the track selections, and not all of these are older folk songs.

An original song written by Beazley, "Bethan's" is a fun-filled fiddle led journey of three parts that allows the instruments to shine. Sounding initially like a dash through heather and woodland it transitions to the middle part where still water meets warm musical strings, the final third is a violin overdrive which manages to be feathery and creasing at the same time. It is easily one of my favourite tracks on the album and incredibly catch. Consummately performed and mixed all around, the wholesale shift of character as the songs transition is quite fascinating and worth a good few listens."Across the Water" is another delightful addition and another original. Jointly written between Alex and Nicola at my local (Sheffield Cathedral) it's setting and inspiration takes place during one of Alex's first return visits to the UK after travelling to the US. You can feel a return in the air and a hint of sentimentality in this welcoming, sweet number. The concertina and energy of the track starts to gallop in the second half, but it retains a precise and clear sounding string that points towards good rehearsal and skill.

Overall, it is a well-produced album that often makes the instruments the stars of the show (as it rightly should), except maybe in their heart-rending, powerful take on "Bold Fisherman" where the symphony of voice and melodic air come together quite nicely, sharing the song. As a collection it feels like a well-performed love-letter to the inspirations and the history that has been passed to these musicians in their studies. Through the quality of performance there are indeed notes of ardency to their learning path. In some respect they are continuing the traditional flame, which they hold aloft very well in most part due to their enthusiasm and practice.

There is little to fault here for a debut album that throughout exhibits a joie de vivre that is sometimes hard to capture. The samples of their own writing is the clincher for myself showing a great synthesis of traditional material and modern inspiration.

I look forward to hearing what they will do next.

Peter Taranaski