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The Old FashionedThe Old Fashioned
Album: Strawberry Leaves
Label: No Masters
Tracks: 13

Take three accomplished English musicians, each with a long-established and wide-ranging pedigree, put them in a studio and give them the task of setting out their stall of personal favourite songs and tunes and producing an artefact that will give sustained listening pleasure to a similarly wide-ranging potential audience. Here, Fi Fraser, Pete Bullock and Howard Mitchell have come up trumps and passed that initiative test with flying colours.

The Old Fashioned also happen to live up to the name: firstly in that their music-making espouses such old-fashioned virtues as genuine unaffected musicianship and genuine enjoyment in their work, and secondly in that their music-making is stylish in a slightly quaint and yes, old-fashioned way - an intimate mode of performance that's probably more akin to the parlour than the folk stage.

Just over two-thirds of the tracks present Fi's lively, fresh singing, with its intuitive control of phrasing and timing, making a jolly good (and good jolly) fist of material that spans the gamut from traditional folk repertoire staples (Poor Murdered Woman, William Taylor, Bonny Labouring Boy, Our Captain Cried All Hands) through to moving contemporary fare (Jez Lowe's Last Of The Widows and John Tams' Dear Auntie Vera, the latter ably segued from a popular Vera Lynn number, When They Sound The Last All-Clear). Fi also audibly relishes the chance to perform three delectably humorous items, from Joyce Grenfell (Stately As A Galleon), Derek Pearce (Reversible Fleece) and Worten David & P. Long (the gloriously wordy The Rest Of The Day Is Your Own). For most of these songs, Fi's accompanied brilliantly idiomatically by Pete on piano and Howard on double bass (Pete's an exemplary accompanist who sets exactly the right tone for the character of each item), while for the opening track, Babes In The Wood, Fi's fetchingly sung rendition leads into a gleeful ensemble reel (composed by Howard) that according to the liner notes is affectionately known as "music to munch children by"! The disc's tasty menu is further spiced up by the interpolation of three sets of invigorating, frolicksome dance tunes, where Fi gets the chance to display her not inconsiderable fiddling skills. Finally, I must find space to give honourable mention to the sparkling contributions of guest musicians Jude Abbott (flugelhorn), Jo Freya (saxes and whistle) and Harry Hamer (percussion).

Strawberry Leaves is a thoroughly engaging disc that's nostalgically aromatic in all the right ways; once you get in tune with its unique world, you just won't want to leave it!

David Kidman