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EMILY SPIERS - The Half Moon Lovers

EMILY SPIERS - The Half Moon Lovers
Bonna Musica BM001

Emily, originally from Oxford – where she was a regular (singer) at the city’s Half Moon pub session – has lately moved to Germany, where she met, and “clicked” musically with, bouzouki player Tobias Kurig, whistle player Till Storz and an assortment of other talented musicians (most of whom augment her on this album). According to Emily herself, this meeting enabled her to find a different kind of expression in the songs than she had been accustomed to while singing in the unaccompanied style. I’d like to have heard this phase of Emily’s singing career, which she describes as being very much influenced by the singing of Graham Metcalfe and the group Folly Bridge, but I’ve not come across any recordings… But on this showing, Emily’s a persuasive singer with a good grasp of the expressive potential of a song; just occasionally (as on One Morning In May), Emily’s swooping, maybe slightly eccentric phrasing seems to be more at the service of the rhythms of her accompanists, but this is probably relative and/or a reactive swing from the freer nature of her earlier style (I can only guess) and is never a serious problem while she clearly responds directly to the songs themselves.

Traces of sean nós styling and decoration surface in slower items like The Emigrant’s Farewell (although I feel Emily could have made more emotional capital of this broadside by holding back the tempo even further), and The Banks Of The Lee, where the only accompaniment is the responsive harp playing of Steph West. Emily’s take on Mary And The Soldier also benefits from a sparer setting, with rippling percussion offsetting the keening fiddle line. The musical settings Emily employs are very much acoustic-Celtic (predominantly Irish-inflected) in flavour, mostly scored for the small but perfectly formed ensemble of whistle, bouzouki and fiddle with sprightly bodhrán and sometimes accordion or bass to thicken the texture but always recorded with plenty of presence and separation.

There’s a couple of wholly instrumental tracks (The Broken Bed and The Funeral Waltz, both penned by Till), which form pleasing enough interludes between the exclusively traditional menu of the songs. The tracklist betrays Emily’s penchant for songs about love in all its forms, and includes companionable – if sometimes a touch undersold – treatments of Searching For Lambs, The Banks Of The Lee, My Johnny Was A Shoemaker and the like.

The Half Moon Lovers is a pleasant and committed recording, even if I’m left with the feeling that sometimes the accompaniments are a shade all-purpose in nature and a little more imagination could be deployed therein to make Emily’s presentation of the songs more distinguished and individual.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 86 of The Living Tradition magazine.