THE UNWANTED - Music From The Atlantic Fringe

THE UNWANTED - Music From The Atlantic Fringe
Whirling Discs WHRL013

The three musicians here collectively known as The Unwanted – Dervish lead singer Cathy Jordan, ex-Dervish fiddler and slide guitarist Seamie O’Dowd (both Sligo-based), and eclectic Californian banjo/concertina/harmonica player Rick Epping – make an interesting combo by any standards. They take their inspiration from the rich traditions of both sides of the Atlantic, from Ireland to Appalachia and beyond: the songs and tunes of the Atlantic Fringe which have been migrating back and forth on an endless tide of cultural exchange. And they play their chosen music with a true understanding of the various traditions, a deep appreciation which enables them to create a seamless fusion of those traditions.

The breadth of repertoire on display here also enables the musicians to branch out and show some perhaps hitherto unsuspected abilities. The opening track, a rousing rendition of the old Leadbelly cowboy number Out On The Western Plain, migrates naturally into a four-part reel, with Rick’s harmonica chuckling along merrily against a fiddle, guitar and bodhrán backdrop. The Morning Blues receives an infectious treatment wholly in the spirit of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band version, which Rick acknowledges as his source, with Cathy supplying some tasty vocal harmonies. You might consider Amy O’Hara’s environmentally aware song It’s Cool To Be Green outside Cathy’s usual comfort zone, but it works! Elsewhere, Cathy’s lovely voice soars effortlessly and idiomatically, equally so on the charming Ozark folksong Sweet Becky At The Loom, a magisterial take on Eileen A Ruin, and the contemporary country song Sally Grows The Rose (written by Nashville-based Sharon Vaughn). Seamie’s beautifully richly arranged version of Hugh McDonald’s Diamantina Drover is sung with real understanding and is probably one of the finest I’ve come across, while I also warmed readily to Thom Moore’s Turn The Corner, sung affectionately and with appropriate decoration (again by Seamie). Another, arguably less expected success, drawn from the broadest church of roots music, is the trio’s plausible cover of the Stones’ No Expectations. The disc also contains just three purely instrumental tracks, among which the spirited set of Sligo reels (track 4) strikes home at once with its delightful scoring (fiddle, autoharp, jaw harp and guitar), and the slip-jig An Phis Fhuich gets a brilliant, bluesy dobro-and-harmonica workout. Throughout, the playing and singing is enthusiastic and committed, and with the down-home spirit of the Transatlantic Sessions hovering potently over the whole venture. This fine disc deserves not to languish in the no-man’s land where so many roots crossover discs end up; Unwanted this trio might be in name, but I’d wager not so in reality.

David Kidman
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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.