Album: Lay Around That Shack
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 16

Windborne is a quartet of vocal specialists from New England – Lynn Mahoney Rowan, Will Thomas Rowan, Lauren Breunig and Jeremy Carter-Gordon – whose specialism is stylistic versatility and vocal agility. Lay Around That Shack turns out to be Windborne’s fourth CD release, so I’m even more surprised not to have encountered them before. This new disc’s title comes, of course, from the lyric of session staple Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, which opens Windborne’s album in a style that takes no prisoners – full-on, enthusiastic four-part close-harmony singing with spirited banjo accompaniment.

A banjo or two – gourd or otherwise – appears on just half of the tracks in all, and there’s a judicious smidgen of percussion and twangin’ jaw’s harp too at times, but the meat of the enterprise is definitely its concentration on lusty, committed singing. And entertainment – for Windborne’s method is not a po-faced, slavish re-creation of the myriad patchwork of influences and idioms that make up the colourful tapestry of American roots music. But happily, that also doesn’t prevent the singers taking a thoughtful and measured approach to their chosen material (I was most impressed by the Idumea/Saint’s Delight Sacred Harp medley, as well as Way Down To Shawneetown, Going Across The Sea and Grey Funnel Line)

The Windborne group repertoire proudly stretches out across the world of song, but Lay Around That Shack concentrates on taking a gleefully winding path through American music with occasional side trips across the sea to its English roots. That means taking in anything from straight folk songs (Blackest Crow) to prison songs (Diamond Joe), the seafaring life (Grey Funnel Line, Going Across The Sea), riverboating (Way Down To Shawneetown) and mining (Diggins, I Can Hew). A goodly number of the chosen songs are very well-known in American folk and roots circles, but Windborne have a great time delivering fresh takes on items such as Fox Went Out On A Chilly Night, Lazy John, Greenland Fisheries and Gimme Just A Little More Time. Just occasionally, the foursome’s solid vocal arrangements may betray a trace of polish that perhaps might be viewed a touch over the quotient, but there’s ample satisfaction in this too since the group’s assurance stems more from an endemic understanding of the songs they sing than from an academic pretension to faultless delivery. We don’t need no fancy frills! In other words, theirs is a dynamic approach born of genuine and deep-seated appreciation of the tradition in all its aspects.

In fact, the group name Windborne rather aptly characterises the infectious spread of the ensemble’s performances, carried as it were on the wind and thus capable of reaching the parts that a more inward-facing presentation might not reach. Thoroughly commendable.

David Kidman

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