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Corinne MaleCorinne Male
Album: To Tell A Story Truly
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 17

Corinne is a singer of real distinction, character and integrity. Even so, she's also something of an enigma – albeit in the nicest possible way. She describes herself as "a child and grandchild of the folk revival" (she grew up with the seminal Penguin Book Of English Folk Song, which she knew nearly by heart from an early age), and can attest to a lifetime of singing, although she didn't sing out in a club until 1980. Since which time, she's become well known around singing circles in England, Ireland and Scotland, and has learnt from the very best singers. And yet… this is her first CD. Moreover, it would not have been made at all (Corinne candidly admits on the CD credits) had it not been for the suggestion (and subsequent guidance) of Niamh Parsons. Niamh is but one of the singers from whom Corinne has taken key inspiration and/or songs, and Corinne is both honest and generous in her acknowledgement of these personal sources in her accompanying booklet notes.

The programme of songs has been very carefully selected, with representation from both traditional and contemporary categories – although the former takes the lion's share – while Corinne also modestly contributes just one single item of her own devising. Virtually none of the disc's items are likely to be familiar to listeners, even those listeners well versed in the folk repertoire; myself, the only ones I'd previously encountered were Peter Bellamy's Kipling setting The Bee Boy's Song and John Warner's Dear Diary. And The Doffing Mistress of course, which most folks will know, although the version performed here by Corinne incorporates a more extended refrain than we're perhaps accustomed to; then there's Tantalary Jig and Nora Daly, both of which use well-travelled tunes of Irish origin. But that's about it – the remainder of the selections are almost completely unknown and/or almost never sung (more's the pity). Corinne takes her credo from Frank Harte's expressed view that the only real way to kill a song was not to sing it; if you want the songs to survive, then, you must "take them, sing them, make them your own, (in order to) keep them alive". Which Corinne herself does, par excellence.

Corinne possesses a real gift for interpretation, acutely thoughtful and unerringly well considered; this is perfectly matched by her skilful and commanding delivery which impresses mightily with its intuitive shifts from forceful, sturdy and dramatic to tender, delicate and sensitive in accordance with the thrust and flow (and demands) of the narrative. For instance, Corinne's masterful rendition of My Good Looking Man (a real gem from the singing of nonagenarian Nonie Lynch of Co. Clare) is an object lesson in how to convey the progression and development of the singer's character through a variety of moods (and all in just three and a half minutes), while Corinne's personal account of the ballad of Fair Janet (her own realisation, carefully evolved over ten years) entirely deserves and befits its more expansive eight-minute length. The "anglicised version" of the Child ballad Duke Arthur's Nurse (learnt from Frankie Armstrong) is dispatched economically, yet with commendably unhurried pacing – not an easy feat, but Corinne manages it so naturally and assuredly.

My favourite section of the disc, however, is the sequence starting with the Child variant Maisrie Of Livingstone and moving on to Corinne's pertinent observation on Childhood, Lyn Cooper's uncommonly powerful Song Of The Under-Tens (with its gloriously thorny, twisty melody), John Greaves' heartfelt and tremendously poignant Market Day and the feisty traditional Hampshire agricultural wrecking song The Owslebury Lads. On the last-mentioned of these Corinne's joined by a full-throated chorus involving some or all of the "Derby mafia" of Keith Kendrick, Sylvia Needham, Sarah Matthews, Lyn Cooper and Oli Matthews. These and other musicians (Ian Carter, Doug Eunson and Pete Bullock) also provide a modicum of keen and stylish instrumental support of a sensibly varied nature on a handful of other songs, yet always singularly appropriate for the song however – e.g. a frolicking violin for Duke Arthur's Nurse, buzzing hurdy gurdy for The Bee Boy's Song). Importantly though, Corinne's magnificent voice is always correctly the focus. Again rightly, seven of the songs are performed solo and unaccompanied, a further two a cappella with chorus. Corinne has made some fabulous repertoire choices here, with a satisfyingly diverse selection of songs which she has really made her own and on which her robust tone and confident attack (at whatever volume or register) totally convince.

The CD's homespun cover artwork and design prove most attractive and the booklet text gives all due attention to the necessary amount of detail (although there's just one tiny glitch in the presentation, whereby tracks 7 and 8 have somehow gotten transposed in the running order). On the front cover, Corinne's name is almost hidden by the background/colour scheme, which I'd wager is a deliberately self-effacing ploy to concentrate our attention on the songs and the way they are communicated (literally "to tell the story truly") rather than conveying any desire to spotlight the singer as a "name" or entity. This is an outstanding CD all round, lovingly assembled and arranged by a "truly" outstanding singer who is "truly" a storyteller both by trade and by nature.

David Kidman