Hannah Sanders & Liz Simmons
Album: World Begun (EP)
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 5

This duo is a fresh teaming of two seasoned performers from opposite sides of the Atlantic, but individually their names may not strike a chord (as to be honest they didn't with me at first). One important thing the two ladies have in common is that each grew up in a musical family and spent her childhood travelling (and performing) with her parents. Liz is currently a member of Massachusetts-based string-band Annalivia and Celtic roots quartet Long Time Courting, and sings with the John Whelan Band. Hannah grew up in Norfolk; with her mother and father both singers of traditional music, and she toured with their family group The Dunns singing at folk clubs, festivals and heritage sites across the UK; after a family-raising gap of eight years spent in the US, Hannah has now relocated to the UK.

Getting together as a duo has clearly awakened Hannah and Liz's intuitive response to English traditional song, and their individual and combined singing voices prove both interesting and persuasive in this repertoire. Clarity of tone and expression is a feature of both voices, and their harmony work is genuinely supportive (and a particular strength). If anything, though, the latter observation is even more noticeable on their cover of Steve Ashley's iconic Fire And Wine, which opens this, their debut EP; it's a slightly unorthodox reading which plays with the structure a bit but all the same I feel they have an instinctive feel for the song. Going back to the two traditional pieces, the duo's settings for both The Bird In The Bush and Sovay tend to revolve around slightly jazzy syncopated grooves, and delight in subtle and intricate guitar interplay as counterpoint for the lyrics; accomplished though this may be, I'm not entirely convinced by this approach, and I'd be interested to hear what they do with some of the "deeper trad" of the classic ballads with which they're familiar. Either way, however, there's no denying that Hannah and Liz are both skilled guitarists (Hannah also plays dulcimer on Liz's song Broken Promises).

The remaining two tracks on this dip-in-the-water EP are original self-penned songs: Liz's contribution is the limpid, delicately expressed confessional Broken Promises, whereas Hannah's more consolatory World Begun betrays a certain air of early Joni Mitchell. Both songs are rather attractive propositions which indicate that at least part of the duo's future lies as much, if perhaps not more, in that sphere of activity, in addition to the milieu of purely traditional song. There's more than enough on this EP to pique my curiosity and make me keen to hear a full-length stretch of what Hannah and Liz can do together. Hopefully they will have a short UK tour in the offing this year…

David Kidman