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Hilary JamesHilary James
Album: You Don't Know
Label: Acoustic Records
Tracks: 13

Intrigued from the start on CD sleeve cover photo, just what is that oversized instrument as big as Hilary herself.

Renowned alongside long term musical partner Simon Mayor for their contributions to a variety of music genre, including music especially for children (noted among the later hosts of long running BBC programme Playschool). Stepping outside her normal folk territory Hilary revisits the blues theme depicted upon third album 'Bluesy' , the adventure incorporating the Great American Songbook, country blues and some well appointed traditional arrangements together with sole original ' Last Show Tonight'.

This sole original which opens 'You Don't Know' was surprising written twenty years ago, defines tone of how good song should be. A strong story faithfully recounted in exemplary style.

Hilary's 'You Don't Know' also celebrates love of Great American Songbook in compositions from George & Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. Long part of Hilary's repertoire, dating from her student days with Reading University big band Gershwin's 'They All Laughed'. With fleeting step harkens to source in 1937 film Shall We Dance, used to accompany a classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance routine.

Hilary's sultry vocal on 'Need Your Love So Bad' (written by Mertis John Jr ), known more familiarly as a blues/rock number and famously charting in the UK by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, countered by additional vocals by Jeff Chambers and Simon Jones before embracing the standard 'Skylark' co-write between Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, whose lyric believed to have been written with Judy Garland in mind, Hilary lending delicate vocal. Merry dance continued in similar vein upon 'Frankie & Johnnie' belies a hidden darker tale of love and betrayal.

'Deep River Blues' opens with return to sultry vocal, here removed from it's bluegrass home and given fresh approach with addition of new bridge section composed by Hilary further rewarded with the fine interplay of Simon's violin. Combination abetted by duelling guitars of Phil Fentimen (reunion having first recorded together on 1979 offering) and Simon, who also adds dazzling solo mandolin, lifts the ragtime of 'Say No To The Devil' written by Reverend Gary Davis toward lighter note than it's original religious fervour.

Hilary, who share's dual passion also being an established painter, alongside her fellow musicians gracefully delivers a fine body of work although more of her own compositions holding to the aforementioned trait of good song would be welcome. Taking this listener full circle is discovering knowledge of that curious instrument as being a mandobass, equally joyous revelation.

Tony Wilding