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Jo Lepine & Friends Jo Lepine & Friends
Album: As The Blackbird In The Evening
Label: Rif Mountain
Tracks: 8

In case you're racking your brain cells to place Jo, she sang with Owl Service - and here she proudly releases an intimate, nominally solo album in memory of her late friend and collaborator Philip G. Martin (aka Drohne), hurdy gurdy player extraordinaire. Philip is one of the Friends who plays on the album, and he appears on three tracks, including a stately rendition of The Selkie O' Sule Skerry that features Philip's distinctive voice in addition to Jo's.

That track was originally released on the 2013 Leigh Folk Festival sampler CD, and that same gig was the source for the bonus track, a live recording of Fair Isabelle. Jo and Philip are joined by some other friends on tuba, trumpet and trombone) for an inspired, if perhaps slightly rushed, cover of the Country Joe & The Fish classic Porpoise Mouth that exchanges carnival for Parisian café. Half of the items on the disc are performed entirely solo by Jo singing a cappella, her clear, direct tone in all its glory; The Three Ravens is a particularly fine rendition, while the disc's title track is an enigmatic miniature, and She Is So Cold is chillingly atmospheric (benefitting from its sensibly controlled studio effects).

Jo's vision for the big ballad Tam Lin is assured, but her voice is probably not quite up to the demands of this weighty narrative and as a result it lacks something in gravitas and impact. The remaining track follows to the album's marine-mammal sub-theme: it's Jo's own composition Grey Dolphin, which retells a Kentish legend from the horse's point of view, and is sung to an inventive guitar accompaniment courtesy of Gavan Kearney (aka Sand Snowman).

There's a lot packed into the album's half-hour's playing time, and I could've listened to twice as much - but as it stands this is still a disc to be cherished - and it sports attractive artwork too.

David Kidman