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Viv Legg & Thomas McCarthy Viv Legg & Thomas McCarthy
Album: Jauling The Green Tober
Label: Brown Label
Tracks: 16

This is a collection of songs that references the theme of its title (in common parlance, travelling the green roads), in that the two singers are both revisiting the “green routes” of their own rich family heritage of songs, inherited from a background (albeit a different one for each singer) in Roma traveller life – Viv in Cornwall, Thomas in Co. Offaly in the heart of Ireland. The two singers had first met at Bodmin Folk Club and got on well, and each song that one of them sang triggered another song or memory or experience, and soon the idea of recording a joint CD emerged. The result is Jauling The Green Tober, a convivial sequence of relaxed, assured performances that mirrors exactly that approach. However, these are exclusively solo performances – for all that the disc’s actual title might perhaps imply that duets are the order of the day (and in any case, as is pointed out in the disc’s press release, it would not have been true to either singer’s tradition to record any song as a duet). Even so, what does come across strongly in this sequence of songs is the joyous sense of closeness between the two singers, their togetherness and the sharing of special times and experiences through the songs as the session unfolds.

Considering my remarks above, it might now come as a bit of a surprise to discover that the format of the recital is not strictly turn-on-turn-about, although there’s still the sense of songs triggering other songs between the two singers, whether in terms of similarity or parallel in the narrative, situation or motif. The song-count over the course of the disc nevertheless makes for an equal-handed eight songs apiece. Thomas and Viv are both very skilled and very striking singers, each with a strongly individual style that, once heard, will subsequently prove hard, if not impossible, to mistake for any other singer. A forceful personality will often manifest in a certain level of idiosyncrasy, which, though an acquired taste, invariably proves worth acquiring.

Thomas’s singing possesses a firm control and fluid sense of line, yet these qualities are sometimes masked by his innate vibrato, which at first acquaintance may prove slightly distracting. Perhaps the most persuasive illustrations of Thomas’s highly decorated style are on The Glens of Aherlow and a passionate take on The Exile Of Erin. Nevertheless, Thomas tells the stories of his chosen songs with a degree of evident relish, as demonstrated par excellence on Mikey O’Leary Courted A Fairy.

A delicious relish, sheer joy and true delight in the storytelling is also abundant in Viv’s singing, though hers is an altogether more involving and conversational, even playful style that points up dramatic junctures and (often) reported speech, keeping the listener both informed and keenly interested in the progress of the narrative. Additionally, the gorgeous timbre of Viv’s voice is a remarkable foil for her method of delivery. Highlights of Viv’s repertoire on this disc are Down By The Old Riverside (a favourite of Viv’s mother Sophie) and the measured yet riveting account of Dark Eyed Sailor, while the (irresistible!) tale of A Good-For-Nothing Man seems to share a kinship with Mike Waterson’s celebrated revenge-saga A Stitch In Time. Catch Me If You Can, of course, has become more familiar to audiences in recent years through the singing of both Vic Legg (Viv’s brother) and the estimable Pete Coe (who had provided an invaluable service in recording Viv’s aunts Charlotte and Betsy and her mother Sophie in the 70s). Two of Viv’s song choices (The Young Rackly and Romany Rose) are non-traditional in origin – the former being a delightful Romany “tinkering” that was “created” by Viv and Sophie themselves, and the latter having been written specially for Viv by Cornish bard Tony Truscott; both songs are enchanting discoveries.

As far as I can tell, only one of the songs chosen for this recital also crops up on an earlier recording by Viv – this being the sentimental melodrama of The Prisoner Lad, which appears on her Veteran label release Romany Roots. Veteran’s excellent Catch Me If You Can disc (of the Pete Coe recordings) provides instructive comparison with accounts by Betsy, Sophie and Charlotte of five of the songs Viv sings on the present disc. On Thomas’s choices however, he seems to have the field to himself.

This is an essential recording bringing together under the same roof two very fine, complementary and yet stylistically quite different singers; it’s a juxtaposition that’s both to be savoured and celebrated.

David Kidman