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Antoine & Owena Antoine & Owena
Album: Something Out Of Nothing
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.antoineandowena.com

That'll be guitar and bouzouki pklayer Antoine Architeuthis and violinist Owena Archer then, and this the Wiltshire duo's second album, recorded at Real World Studios and augmented by drums, bass and bodhran.

As before, it's a mix of traditional and self-penned material, getting under way with a trip to the penal colony of 'Botany Bay', a journey often undertaken by ships of the folk fleet, but here to set to a new tune by the duo with a simple arrangement, sung in suitably lament manner, he on lead, she harmonising, as the number builds in intensity.

It's followed by the first of two consecutive originals, though 'Polly Anne' is firmly rooted in the traditional narrative of young women ill-advisedly falling for sailors, Owena providing the violin with Antoine playing a circling guitar patterns while singing of the working girl falling for the sea captain he meets at Plymouth, asking to sail with him to Lisbon as lover and companion only for things to not prove as romantic as she'd hoped, returning home to the tailor she'd abandoned, only to find him wed to another.

The second, featuring drums, is the more strident (almost prog-folk) 'Northern Man', on which Antoine tells of his growing up ("Raised in a two bed semi with my brother by my folks") in Doncaster (Donny) in the 90s, watching Bullseye with his nan and granddad, playing pool in the social club with his dad on Saturdays, holidaying in Scarborough and so forth before moving south to seek his fortune, declaring, however, "You can take a man from the north but not the north out of the man".

It's back to traditional pastures with the 17th century 'Benjamin Bowmaneer', adopting the variant in which the tailor (a regular butt of jokes around this period) turns the various tools of his trade into weapons of war, albeit the lyrics adopting decidedly satirical, if not to say even anti-war, delivered here with a certain poker-faced solemnity.

They return to their own material with 'Living On The Breadline', a mix of trad and blues influences for an uptempo number which, telling of the fate of a Wiltshire farmer, is based on the Andover workhouse scandal of the 1840s that exposed serious flaws in the administration of the New Poor Law, the last verse noting how nothing's much changed ("The Lords they made a promise that/One day there would be change/Instead of breaking bones, we're taking out loans/To buy our own headstone"), especially if you substitute Universal Credit as the bone of contention. Moving further back in time, opening with what sounds like fires blazing followed by just Owena's mournful violin, 'Farewell, Santo Domingo' has Antoine lugubriously telling tells of the Spanish bloody and brutal colonisation of Mexico in the 16th century ("We killed them as they worshipped/We slew them as they ate", the narrator enlisting to avoid jail.

The last of the traditional tunes comes with their arrangement of transportation ballad 'Van Dieman's Land', violin in lusty shanty form with Anf Abbott on bodhran, then three originals bring matters to a close, starting off with the slow strummed sway of the harmonised 'Santa Rosa', another sea-faring number underpinned by a whaler's longing to return home (Santa Rosa Island off California being a notable location for whale sightings) , inevitably, being a folk ballad, ending in a storm and a wreck. The final two tracks sound socio-political commentary, Featuring fingerpicked guitar, 'The Swallow' is a folk blues which reflects on "a country I no longer recognise" populated by "people with hatred in their eyes", the album ending with the title track, solo forlorn violin backdropping Antoine's introductory account of Jack and Jill climbing a hill for water and coming down with a daughter, Lily, Jack getting a job at the colliery before the guitar and drums arrive and the narrative finds of Lily unable to find anything other than minimum wage work after graduating, the family doing their best to get by as the song builds to anthemic chorus stature as it takes in such issues as crippling first home debt, ending on the abrupt unaccompanied observation that you work all your life to climb the hill and always roll back down again. There seems little danger, however, that the duo's journey is going to anything but upward and onwards

Mike Davies