This new grouping brings Alistair Anderson, the silvery-tonsured master of the English concertina, together with three musicians from a younger generation, some of whom he has worked with through the degree course in Folk and Traditional Music which he launched at Newcastle University as far back as 2001. The contributions of Sophy Ball (fiddle and nyckelharpa), Sarah Hayes (flute and vocals) and Ian Stephenson (guitar, double bass and piano) are, however, just as significant as that of the former High Level Ranter, and this is a fine collection of tunes and songs, many of them emanating from the north east of England (though, strictly speaking, of course, the Midlands of Britain).
Of the songs, Jez Lowe's sprightly lament for productive dockyards "Taking On Men" leads off the album at a sprightly pace, and the version of "The Snow It Melts the Soonest" features some very tasty guitar from Stephenson. "Last Shift" is a less sentimental take on lost industry, whilst "I Drew My Ship Into a Harbour" is, perhaps, a slightly unsatisfactory end to the collection, given the pace and verve of some of the instrumental tracks.
The opening set "Paddywhack / CoffeeBridge / Spirit of Whiskey" is immaculately played and fairly drives you along, with flute, box and fiddle combining to great effect, and the solid rhythm of the guitar making you wonder whether drums are ever really necessary. With waltzes, hornpipes and jigs throughout, this is an object lesson in the art of traditional folk music, drawing on Scots and Irish influences, but all clearly with direct links to Anderson's home area.
A special mention must also go to Stephenson, who engineered the whole affair, and if the guitar comes out of the mix especially well, who can blame him? Great stuff.
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