Vicki Swan & Jonny DyerVicki Swan & Jonny Dyer
Album: A Sound Of Christmas Past
Label: Wet Foot Music
Tracks: 14

Here's the first of 2014's seasonal albums sent for review. And it's a thoroughly kindly, modest and entirely unprepossessing slice of enduring Christmas cheer embracing all the traditional values: cosy, wholesome and family-friendly renditions of a reliable, almost self-choosing "top ten or so" carols and Christmas favourites. For yes, 'tis the season to be jolly - and this lovely disc, while sounding every inch the familiar spirit of Christmas past, also keeps us on our toes by introducing into the mix a good number of delectable and inventive personal musicianly touches courtesy of this established, highly talented duo. The vast majority of the track titles will be comfortably familiar, and everything on the disc is done straightforwardly and honestly, very much in the traditional (i.e. approved Victoriana) manner, but without sentimentality - i.e. with an infectious presence and an abundance of sincere seasonal goodwill on ready display.

The duo's astounding multi-instrumental versatility (between them playing nyckelharpa, oktavharpa, flute, guitar, bouzouki, accordion, spinet and bass!) is a trademark that fully complements their natural and unassuming vocal expertise, while their confidence extends both to the actual scoring and the scope of the musical arrangements, which embrace intelligent interpolations of appropriate tunes within the familiar frameworks of the carols and songs. Thus, I Saw Three Ships sails off to its coda on a jolly Swedish polkette; a suitably "rum-bustious" dance tune tops up Good Christian Men Rejoice; and We Wish You A Merry Christmas is introduced with a neat little minuet and plays out with a brisk, bustling Playford-style dance entitled Hedingham Green - which also (rather neatly!) gives me the cue for praising the CD's exceedingly attractive, and highly apposite, artwork by Karen Cater of Hedingham Fair… The various added tunes all turn out to be originals by Vicki or Jonny themselves, cleverly created in accordance with the idiom. And it's good to find a couple of more unusual items like Past Three O'Clock and the amalgam Essex Wassail tucked in there for good measure, while at the same time you'll be unlikely to hear the Sussex Carol, Holly And The Ivy or Down In Yon Forest done much more enticingly.

So what's there not to like? Nowt really - for this is a most pleasing disc. The duo's performances are safe and accessible while not exactly tame; the musical content isn't in any way challenging, just gently stimulating in the manner of a good pint of reliable ale that's tasty but not over-heady or unduly intoxicating. like a drink, pleasing but not too heady or intoxicating. So pass me some fresh-minted humbugs on your way back from the Bah, Mister Scrooge!

David Kidman

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