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AILSA & JOHN BOOTH - Little Apples......Will Grow Again

AILSA & JOHN BOOTH - Little Apples......Will Grow Again
Acorn Records OAK012

Ailsa and John are regular performers at Northwich Folk Club in Cheshire, and this is their second full-length CD release (there was one earlier album, on cassette), the official follow-up to the gleefully-titled Hommadocks & Thingummyjigs. Although their varied repertoire normally intersperses quality contemporary songs with John’s own compositions, it’s ten of the latter that make up the bulk of Little Apples, the only cover here being a companionable (if perhaps a tad stiff) take on Gillian Welch’s One Little Song. John, whom some readers may remember was a co-founder of the Leicestershire-based band Oakenshield back in the 1980s, has come relatively late to songwriting, and this aspect of his music-making has latterly been brought to the fore in his partnership with singer Ailsa, whom he accompanies on guitar (there’s a smidgen of extra instrumentation on a few tracks, sounding to be keyboard-generated but not actually credited, although the booklet does mention percussionist Dan Logan and sax player Maxine Birchall).

Ailsa’s an interestingly expressive singer, on this evidence equally at home with gentle nostalgia (Remember Me), thoughtful narrative vignettes (Betty And Maria) and jazz-inflected portraits (Looking For Her Shoes, Five At Midnight), or dispensing philosophical advice (Skin Deep, The Same Sun); she can, however, come across as a little too “refined”, even careful, in her cultured delivery. John takes over the vocal role for the dreamlike, mystical rumination of The Crow Before Dawn (on which the duo call to my mind The Sun Also Rises) and the throwaway Sometimes I Wear A Hat.

Matching John’s songwriting, the duo’s musical settings tend to be unpretentious and generally pleasing rather than radical in any way: charming enough for the most part, but stylistically, if I’m honest, I feel that Ailsa and John seem rather locked in the 70s/80s – during which era they would probably have felt quite at home in the Village Thing stable (albeit as a minor entry in that label’s catalogue). In that respect, Little Apples is probably best described as a contemporary period-piece – which is not actually as merely damning with faint praise as it might appear.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 89 of The Living Tradition magazine.