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The Georgia Shackleton Trio The Georgia Shackleton Trio
Album: The Dog Who Would Not Be Washed
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12

When first you learn that The Georgia Shackleton Trio comprises past students from the Newcastle University folk degree course, you might be led to expect a musical diet predominantly comprising virtuoso renditions of traditional tunes - but you couldn't be more wrong. This outfit brings to the folk stage a really refreshing and exciting blend of folk, Americana and self-penned songs, played and sung with a real pizazz, a degree of accomplishment that banishes any hint of precociousness yet at the same time could never be accused of staying remotely on the cautious side. Georgia's a brilliant fiddle player, and also one hell of a singer - definitely not of the winsome, breathy, soft-and-gentle kind, but instead feisty and confident, with a penchant for self-confessedly wordy songs in the prospect of which many a young fellow-singer might run a mile!

Georgia's may be the band's dominant musical personality (after all, the outfit's named after her!), and as named leader her showmanship may by now very probably be becoming near-legendary, but her collaborators Aaren Bennett (guitar and harmony vocals, with the occasional lead vocal) and Nic Zuppardi (mandolin) provide an ideal, and aptly lively, foil for Georgia's presence. Having remarked on her predilection, though, a standout track on this, the trio's debut full-length album, is her near-acappella (save for a bare, hushed fiddle drone) rendition of the traditional ballad Molly Vaughan, which is cannily segued into a Scandinavian polska where her fiddle virtuosity shines darkly passionately. Elsewhere, the combined forces of the Trio deliver a stylish mix of material and influences with a direct and equal-handed commitment and tremendous panache. The album contains five of Georgia's own songs - quirky little numbers that tackle a variety of subjects - tender barroom romance (Whiskey Kisses), a WW1 homing pigeon (War Pigeon) and even a tortoise (Lonesome George), the latter being an insidiously catchy portrait with only a cheeky pizzicato fiddle for accompaniment. Endurance, the tale of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton (one of Georgia's ancestors, it turns out), is given an unexpectedly chirpy musical treatment which (equally unexpectedly) works, while the similarly uptempo opus Black Sluice warns of the dangers of Fenland roads (an inevitable topic, I guess, considering the band is Norfolk-based).

There's a fine, forceful cover of Billy Edd Wheeler's Coal Tattoo, and the disc's title track is a sparky jig of Georgia's that's well paired with a frantic reel by Ian Hardie. The second instrumental medley comprises a pair of contrasted tunes penned by Nic, and its initial more relaxed and leisurely gait has a strong Transatlantic Session feel. The disc's menu is completed by four well-managed traditional songs, including the aforementioned Molly Vaughan, Katie Dear (which showcases Aaren's charismatic voice with Georgia contributing some telling harmonies) and the lively hoedown Little Rabbit. Only The Devil And The Farmer's Wife perhaps fails to catch light to the same extent.

Checking out the band's past releases on their website, it transpires that some of the material has already appeared on record - either on their debut EP (in the case of Black Sluice) or their live mini-album of earlier this year (Coal Tattoo, Devil, the Dinghies tune-set and Little Rabbit). But no matter, for this is a very coherent collection indeed, where the enjoyment of the participants really spills over; it's a set which does more than promise a really healthy future for the band.

David Kidman