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NICK WYKE & BECKI DRISCOLL - Beneath the Black Tree

NICK WYKE & BECKI DRISCOLL - Beneath the Black Tree
English Fiddle EFCD02

For their second release Becki & Nick have put on a lot of thought and effort.  Gorgeous artwork and excellent production make this quite a thoroughbred.  As may be expected, their two fiddles sound a treat, lots of beautiful textures, assured and vital playing – really good stuff. 

My main criticism is that the arrangements, whilst showing a lot of imagination, start to be a little formulaic – a rhythmic/melodic pattern which will be used as the accompaniment is introduced, with an improvised tune drifting around it (some of this reminds me a bit of Spiro, some of Penguin Café Orchestra: in between each performance of the tune this is repeated, and it happens again at the end to finish off the track.  This results in tracks consisting of only one tune, but lasting quite a while. 

For the most part this really isn’t a problem (although The King of Poland rather outstays its welcome), as they have some great traditional tunes such as George Watson’s Hornpipe (if anyone’s interested, this is the hornpipe version of the tune which Bob Fox & Stu Luckley used for Sally Wheatley.  You’re not?  Ah.), and raid pre 19th century collections to good effect. They really should give some more sleeve information on this, rather than just the titles.

Their own compositions are really good and stand comparison to the strongest of the traditional material.  There are also three songs; Nick puts a lot of energy into these and makes them sound like songs, rather than just folk songs – no mean feat.  I find his frequent mordant decorations on the vocal line a little tiresome, and his “received” pronunciation may not be to everyone’s taste (but I don’t mind it), but I’ll look forward to hear him tackling some rather less well-known material in future times.  The added contributions from French horn, percussion and especially double-bass really help to lift the proceedings.

There’s some lovely, enjoyable stuff here and it seems to have been aimed fairly as a calling-card for Arts Centres and Festival organisers – who would be foolish to ignore it (as long as they get the double bass as well!)  Well-worth investigating – go and see them live!

Paul Burgess

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