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Rootbeat Records RBRCD19

Mayday is an evocative term, redolent of British culture – Padstow, Maypoles, Summer is icummen in, The Morris etc. It’s also the international radio distress code (“Mayday? That was weeks ago” – Tony Hancock). It’s this latter sense that pervades Lady Maisery’s second CD. The first was a fairly jolly, diddly-driven affair; this is a much darker, ominous beast, placing as much emphasis on the range of their instrumental skills as their harmonious vocal prowess. In fact, one feels that their reliance on three part harmony throughout becomes a distraction: when we reach a solo voice on The Great Selkie (track 11 and certainly the stand-out track of the album), it comes almost as a relief.

The songs here are all stern warnings or tales of cruel circumstance and harsh twists of fate. From the edgy opening version of Sydney Carter’s Crow On The Cradle to the closing Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, we are invited to reappraise age-old and often very familiar warnings. It’s as if Hannah, Hazel and Rowan have come across these faded artefacts and found them as starkly relevant today as they were for their parents and their parents’ parents. Think Rosselson’s Palaces Of Gold was a song very much of its time? Believe that Carthy did the definitive version? Think again when you hear it performed in the harsh light of 21st century consciousness.

The songs are mainly traditional, including a six and a half minute version of the ballad that gave the group its name. Clearly a great deal of thought has gone into the arrangements which are varied, witty and designed to make use of the trio’s multi-instrumental skills. There are moments when things have been misjudged – the over-harmonised vocals on Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work tend to obscure the lyric; the clever simulation of workroom noises via musical instruments on The Factory Girl is clever, but unnecessarily wearing after repeated plays.

All in all, though, Lady Maisery have tackled “that difficult second album” in a bold and brave way and carried it off with aplomb.

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.