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Nick Dow Nick Dow
Album: Far And Wide
Label: Old House
Tracks: 14
Website: Your Guess?

I've been trying to get this review onto the site for a few months, but for one reason or other I've not finally managed to complete the task until now. But I would stress that this is in no way a reflection on the quality of the CD, which is absolutely excellent. For from the very first line of the opening song, Jacket Of Blue, it will be apparent that Nick is an accomplished singer and an expert storyteller. He's constantly in demand at folk clubs and festivals throughout the land, being a fund of information as well as the above-mentioned qualities in abundance - and an underrated guitarist too, although not a note is played on this, which is (surprisingly) only his second album of purely unaccompanied song.

Far And Wide (a title aptly reflecting the breadth of sources of Nick's chosen songs) is the latest proudly home-produced entry in Nick's large catalogue of CDs, and one that's been long-awaited in these quarters. It's again very much a "what it says on the tin" product, but one of the highest specification. A whole hour's worth of unaccompanied traditional folk songs: collected with care, interpreted with insight, delivered with flair and confidence, and treated with all due respect. Nick's sturdy baritone is absolutely consistent, and although he employs a modicum of judicious decoration this consistency allows him to subtly vary the pace and tone according to the demands of the story, so that the listener is encouraged, and enabled, to follow this closely. Even at a measured or deliberate pace, the effect can be genuinely exciting (which, I realise, is not a term that the general listener will readily apply to traditional unaccompanied singing - but how wrong they can be, of course!).

Nick's honest, straightforwardly communicative singing style, learnt from Traveller singers, is purposeful and makes a compulsive listen. A standout track here is The Dark-eyed Gypsy, a variant of the well-travelled (sic!) ballad, to which Nick provides a simply breathtaking coda of "tuning" (the Traveller equivalent of mouth-music/diddling). Another is a storming, highly compelling account of the "big ballad" Prince Heathen. Elsewhere, Jenny Of The Moor uses the wonderful tune Nick himself had written for this Irish street ballad back in 1979, and further proof of Nick's propensity for finding the best available tune comes with his choice to adopt Mrs. Sweet's melody for Searching For Lambs. Nick also turns in fine accounts of Down By The Seaside and The Sun Being Set (both from the singing of Pop Maynard) and Another Man's Wedding (from Eddie Butcher's version), and an infectiously sprung take on The Wild Croppy Tailor (collected by Bob Copper).

But it goes without saying that all 14 of the songs on this disc receive the customary personal, precisely researched, and yes admirably uncompromising Nick Dow treatment. His assurance in song collection and presentation is such that he's not averse - and refreshingly unafraid - to adapt and/or augment the texts, as is made clear from his detailed and well-presented booklet notes, the inclusive and often anecdotal nature of which is a reflection both of Nick's modus operandi and his companionable personality. As ever, Nick sings with exemplary clarity, a firm grasp of line and an unerring sense of flow. Sure, Nick takes no prisoners, but nor should he, for he owns these songs with true authority. There could be no finer demonstration of the art of unaccompanied traditional singing.

David Kidman