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Sally Barker & Vicki GenfanSally Barker & Vicki Genfan
Album: In the Shadow of a Small Mountain
Label: Small Mountain
Tracks: 9

Friends for 15 years, Britain's Sally Barker and America's Vicki Genfan have finally got round to making an album together, one that draws on their respective musical and geographical roots, mixing them together to form a hybrid of the American south and England's rural folk intimacy.

With only a couple of guest appearances, it's down to the two women's guitars and voices to create the mood, one which touches on Appalachian streams and mountains but, more commonly, a jazz-inflected folksiness that might summon thoughts of early John Martyn.

There's an interesting collection of topics, opening with 'Hopes, Songs and Dreams', a simple acoustic celebration of the power of song but, more specifically, a tribute to Sandy Denny of whom, incredibly, Genfan had apparently never heard, while, later, 'Little Red Box' is a nostalgia lament for the country's fast disappearing telephone boxes and, by extension, a stereotypical vision of England.

Featuring Genfan's banjo and mandolin, 'Holding On (Can't Let You)' wraps Appalachian arms around Baker's lyrics about her kids becoming adults, while memories of teenage years and dancing round handbags on Friday night infuse 'Feels Like Flying', the jazzy groove inspired by Gil Scott Heron's 'In The Bottle'.

Not written for the project, 'Heart Needs A Home' is a Barker song that had been looking for a home for a while, a McGarrigles-ish mumber written for an ex-boyfriend and the need to find two hearts in one home, a theme that carries over of sorts into the brushed drums (the only track with percussion) jazzy waltz of 'Something Blue' about being left standing at the altar.

Bookended by a Celtic melody, the bluesy, rhythmically jerky 'Moonshine' is the number around which the album pivots, a song that interweaves three narratives about the Scots-Irish immigrants who took their whisky-making skills to America and of the teenager sons of the moonshiners who, during Prohibition, transported their father's products to the cities, their driving skills leading to them becoming the first NASCAR racers.

Shifting styles in a world music direction, Finn Magill provides low whistle while Peter Mawanga's Malawian thumb piano brings an African harmonic foundation to 'Malaya', the nature-warmed story of a young girl's quest to climb a mountain that's also etched out by Genfan's claw hammer playing on her 12 string guitar.

It ends in poppy groove with the jazzy strum of 'Weekday Heartbreak', another blues-jazz inflected song about a relationship, here the story of a weekend lover who goes back to his wife during the week.

An intimate affair probably best sampled with a vintage red or a well aged malt, hopefully now they've finally set up base camp in the foothills, hopefully they'll set off for the peaks in the not too distant future.

Mike Davies