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Rattle On The Stovepipe Rattle On The Stovepipe
Album: Poor Ellen Smith
Label: Wild Goose Records
Tracks: 17

Rattle On The Stovepipe are a collaboration of Dave Arthur (guitar, 5-string banjo, melodeon, percussion, vocals), Pete Cooper (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Dan Stewart (5-string banjo, guitar, fiddle, harmony vocals). The band first got together in 2003, Dave and Pete were founder members, to explore the connections between British, Irish and Appalachian songs and tunes, something that proved a fruitful hunting ground, as Cecil Sharp discovered when he went to the USA in the early part of the 20th Century.

With just one change of membership since then they have been producing albums steadily over the years and the latest addition is 'Poor Ellen Smith', which is now available having been released in early March. The title track is a classic murder ballad from the late 19th Century based on a true story of the murder of Ellen Smith by her ex-lover in North Carolina, a crime for which he was duly hanged.

With 17 tracks this is certainly an album to get your teeth into but the selection of music, mixing traditional with contemporary, songs with tunes and ranging from waltzes to blues means that the running time of almost an hour flies past. There's plenty of banjo and fiddle to get the toes tapping and for aficionados the fiddle tunings for some tracks are given in the sleeve notes.

That attention to detail flows through to the music itself. Having been together for a few years now these individually well known musicians obviously know each other well and they have a very tight sound, playing with real lift and energy.

To list every song would make the review as long as the album but one that deserves mention is The Devil's In The Girl, a delightful double entendre if ever there was one and guaranteed to raise a smile. This is an English tune (Roud 1480), an everyday tale of a young girl beguiled by her musician lover although her mother isn't quite so impressed with him and drives him away, unfortunately too late.

"When six short months was passed and gone
Her gown it would not meet
Her mother said "Oh daughter, t'was the music made you swell
It's never no good to play that tune
The devil's in the girl."

This is an album which will be enjoyed by a wide range of people. If you're fond old time traditional American or English music it will certainly appeal, but it should also be of interest to anybody who enjoys traditional songs performed with expertise and sparkle.

One very impressive aspect of the album is the extensive and well researched booklet that accompanies it. Instead of giving the lyrics the provenance each song is given, along with explanations when and where it has been recorded. There are some interesting history lessons, too. As noted for the song 'Southern Soldier', Hollywood probably gets it wrong. This Civil War song, written by Dave Arthur, points out that many of the troops would have been recent immigrants from various parts of the British Isles who would have still carried their accents with them. I also discovered that men born in Kent died at both The Alamo and Little Big Horn. The notes make the songs more than just a tune with words; it gives them a place in history itself.

The album can be purchased via Proper Records, Wildgoose or Amazon.

Tony Birch