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Early Birds

Private Label  CSN004

Chris and Siobhan are resident performers at Southport’s excellent Bothy Folk Club, but they have a long and interesting CV stretching back over 20 years, latterly producing two exceptional duo recordings in addition to their involvement with Nelsons Wake (their fruitful long-term collaboration with Southampton-based songwriter Barry Wake).

Early Birds follows much the same pattern as its predecessors, in that it’s an admirably diverse, keenly chosen and carefully-sequenced collection of songs that you don’t hear covered much elsewhere (and more’s the pity, as you’ll discover). These songs are immaculately sung, and blessed with imaginative, creative settings that steer well clear of bland cliché and guitaristic ubiquity. Chris is a highly skilled musician (fiddle, viola, tenor guitar, mandolin) and producer, while vocally he also harmonises satisfyingly with Siobhan’s crystal-pure, highly expressive tones. Siobhan’s singing radiates a gentle, movingly tender quality that’s deceptive, in that attentive listening reveals a considerable reserve of power within, while Chris’s instrumental work is thoroughly commendable in that it genuinely supports without ever dominating.

Chris and Siobhan enterprisingly draw their repertoire from a wide range of sources. The absolute standout on this new set for me is a superb, intense acappella version of John Tams’ Scarecrow which is memorably placed at the heart of the disc. Elsewhere, however, there are plenty more fine moments, notably Jennie Benford’s beautiful Stars Fall, the charming (and pleasingly unsentimental) Ellen’s Song (Ray Rooney’s portrait of Siobhan’s own mum, who made a triumphant late return to singing, at the Bothy, after a 60-year gap), and the disc’s persuasive title track (one of a pair of social-conscience pieces by Geoff Parry). Early Birds also contains two fine examples of Barry Wake’s craft, contrasting with a rollicking Seasick Steve number (That’s All) and Brecht’s laconic The Wife Of The Soldier (taking Martin Carthy’s 60s rendition as its source). These sit well with the duo’s inspired treatments of three traditional songs including a rough-hewn, boisterous take on Radcliffe Highway and a plaintive interpretation of The Loyal Lover.

In all, arguably Chris and Siobhan’s greatest achievement is an unobtrusive demonstration of their expertise and artistry which also manages to convey that all-important sense of true commitment to their chosen material. Whatever, this outstanding disc needs to be heard widely.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.