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Wilde Roses Wilde Roses
Album: Wilde Roses
Label: Blood & Desire
Tracks: 13

A fascinating passion project from Anna Tam and Emily Alice Ovenden, two members of classical-lite favourites the Mediaeval Baebes.

Anna (vocals, nyckelharpa, viola da gamba, hurdy gurdy player, percussion) trained as a classical singer and instrumentalist at the Guildhall. As a student, she performed at the Wigmore Hall and on BBC Radio 3 and has been touring internationally since she was 15. Her debut classical album "With Loveā€¦" was released in 2014 and her first album of folk songs is planned for 2018.

Emily (vocals, recorders, percussion) trained at The Arts Educational Schools and received a scholarship from Andrew Lloyd Webber to study in London. As a longstanding member of Mediaeval Baebes she has made several studio albums, live DVDs and recorded themes for BBC TV shows Victoria and Elizabeth with Ivor Novella winner Martin Phipps. She made three albums with her symphonic Metal band PYTHIA and has recorded vocals for multi-platinum selling band Dragonforce for their last three albums.

These heavyweight early musicians have put together a fascinating collection of instrumental and vocal early music; secular and religious, drawn from both formal and folk traditions.

Folk musicians tackling early music sometimes struggle with the control and clarity of tone required, and awkward modal tunings. Classical musicians attempting early folk songs can seem humourless and stiff. The pair manage to avoid both traps, and have recorded an engaging programme, performed with brio and style.

Tam's nyckelharpa leads us in to Emily's vocal on 'Edi Beo Thu Hevene Queene', before two voices come in, weaving around each other, swapping lead lines and counterpoint. The epic 'Henry Martyn', Anna on first voice, is an early favourite, an urgent percussive pulse under hurdy-gurdy as two voices tell the tale of the accidental pirate, echoes of both 'Below the Salt' era Steeleye Span and Nancy Kerr at her best.

Ovenden's recorder over Tam's nyckelharpa, lead us into 'Will Yow Walke the Woods Soe Wilde', vocal harmonies drive the story on, before a final cadenza from Tam. The round 'Dou Way Robin' feature just the two voices and is both hypnotic and compelling, the work requiring fine accuracy of both pitch and timing which the pair pull off seemingly effortlessly.

The tracks on the album are carefully chosen and, generally avoid the more populist end of the genre. Let's forget about 'My Lady Greensleeves' for now, cloying and sentimental. Newcomers to the duo and their work might also be well advised to steer clear of the cover art, a variation of the 'girls lying in grassy field' theme, and not representative of the music therein.

The soulful 'Man Mai Longe Lives Weene' closes the album, a study in beauty of apparently atonal modality showing how much our collective ears have changed in the intervening centuries. That they pull it off is a testament to the skill and hard work of these two remarkable musicians

Laura Thomas