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Fil Campbell & Tom McFarland Fil Campbell & Tom McFarland
Album: Together
Label: Glenshee
Tracks: 12

It was almost exactly two years ago that I reviewed Fil and Tom’s last joint CD, Back There, a charming and wholly delightful album that so well showcased their ongoing life and musical partnership. This is continued on their followup album, a wonderfully intimate collection whose distinctly apt title Together signifies the now even closer-knit nature of the music-making of this husband-and-wife team.

Together also marks a development from its predecessor in that Tom steps a little more often into the spotlight in terms both of songwriting and taking a lead vocal part. Tom’s own songs can be said to share a common theme of loss – Time brings the loss of a loved one into poignant perspective, while People Tell Me I’m Lucky is written from the viewpoint of a returning, surviving soldier and We’ll Get There When We Get There laments the loss of humankind’s ability to reconcile differences and pleads for togetherness. In fact, the latter theme runs through much of the remainder of the album. There are four of Fil’s own songs here, including Ring The Bell which pays tribute to a recently deceased fireman who was a member of singing group Singmarra (who can be heard backing Fil on this track). Until We Meet Again celebrates communality and singing together, whereas the semi-chanted Talk About rails against the never-changing empty rhetoric of politics.

This time round, the disc contains three joint-compositions; pick of these for me is The Birds’ Song, a thinly-veiled allegory set to a delectable skipping jig-rhythm, which to my mind exhibits something of the soft-spoken, playful lilting feel and slightly surreal logic of Colum Sands’ writing. Also worthy of commendation is A New Song To Sing, another moving plea for togetherness in this increasingly chaotic age, even more desperately needed today. Fil and Tom also join forces on an arrangement of Peace In Erin, a prescient 1831 text by Hugh McWilliams, another piece challenging the political topography of divisiveness. The album’s only cover is Laurie Lewis’ The Maple’s Lament, which beautifully voices the imagined thoughts of a dead tree made into a violin.

The overall character of Together, perhaps somewhat in contrast to the intensely-felt lyrics, is that of a relaxed musical portrayal, while at the same time the assured presentation and carefully considered balance of elements could also be considered most appropriate. Fil and Tom possess wonderfully complementary singing voices, soft-spoken and gently expressive, that suit the import of their writing. And softly boosting the basic instrumentation (Fil’s guitar and Tom’s ever-sensitive percussion), there are selective, and highly effective, contributions from the masterly Steve Cooney (acoustic guitars), Ben Sands (mandolin), Colum Sands (double bass and concertina), Nuala Curran (cello), John Kirkpatrick (fiddle) and Brendan Monaghan (whistles) – the last-named three musicians had appeared on Back There. Together they provide unobtrusive, tender timbres and understated phrasing in genially configured settings, setting the seal on Fil and Tom’s own lovely performances.

All told, then, Together is an assured, attractive and treasurable collection with much to commend it.

David Kidman