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Melrose Quartet Melrose Quartet
Album: Dominion
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 14
Website: http://www.melrosequartet.co.uk

This Sheffield-based dream team comprises two intensely-together couples who each complement each other (and one another) extraordinarily well (and yes, the apparent tautology is deliberate!). The duo of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan has been a top attraction on the festival and club circuit for several years now, while Jess and Richard Arrowsmith have been combining their talents in performance at clubs and ceilidhs/dances for almost as long.

The combined instrumental complement of two fiddles, bouzouki/guitar/mandolin and melodeon is a scintillating one that enables abundant variety of texture and the ability to switch from driving to lyrical mode with consummate ease and total confidence. But as if that were not enough, all four are superb singers, solo or in consort, and their voices blend miraculously in harmony. Oh, and the foursome can also boast enviable song- and tune-writing skills.

Interestingly though, it might be indicative (though of exactly what I'm not entirely sure!) that notwithstanding all the musicianly excellence on display, several of Dominion's highlights are purely a cappella (six-and-an-intro out of the fourteen tracks are sung unaccompanied). These are nicely varied in nature and content too, from the Appalachian song Mariah's Gone (sourced from Jean Ritchie via the singing of Peter Bellamy) and Richard's vital account of 'Ware Out Mother (learnt from Charlie Yarwood) to Paul Davenport's touching fisherman's tale Davy Cross (related by Jess), a satisfying collation of less well-known versions of The Seeds Of Love, and finally the simple but effective philosophy of Paul Metsers' Good Intentions and the closing encouragement to aspiring singers Raise Your Voice. Highlights of the self-penned songs are Nancy's Rise No More (a poetic reflection on the demise of the steel industry) and Hand Me Down (an affectionate endorsement of the concept of home, written as a birthday gift for Richard) and Jess's Anthem Of A Working Mum (a wry portrayal of an all-too-real dilemma). The disc also contains four vibrant instrumental tracks including the lovely Low Quebec (written by James for Jess's birthday) and a stirring account of a march written by Swarb for long-time musical partner Martin Carthy - which neatly follows on the heels of a brave and dynamic rendition of his celebrated 1980s rewrite of the epic, intensely wordy 17th century political commentary Dominion Of The Sword (to which James has added a further two verses for good measure!).

Dynamic is the adjective that most springs to mind throughout the whole album. The spontaneous energy, presence and expertise of Melrose Quartet is totally commanding and inspirational.

David Kidman