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Shire Folk

The name is new to me, but my interest was stirred by the instrumental line-up: harp (Rachel Hair), double bass (Cameron Maxwell), guitar and vocals (Jenn Butterworth). The track list intrigued too, its eight tunes and three songs combining original and contemporary material with traditional Celtic sources.

Rachel Hair’s ‘Jigs for Mann’ set opens the CD in sparkling style. In hands as skilled as these the clarasch (Celtic harp) has a range and palette enough to satisfy on its own, but while Hair sets a cracking pace, the rhythm section aren’t just here to carry the p.a. Guitar and bass set up a tight, punchy counterpoint, with the kind of jazzy rhythms deployed to great effect by another of my favourite young combos, The Old Dance School.

The instruments pull back a little for songs, showcasing Jenn Butterworth’s powerful and accomplished vocals. She has that easy agility which comes from hard work and practice, and her own song, ‘Angel’, fully demonstrates her elegant phrasing and ornamentation, which make the most of an inventive and tuneful melody.

The players maintain their fine balance and close interplay throughout the ensuing bill of fare, which includes a variety of dances (good to hear their effervescent rendering of ‘The Rolling Wales’) interspersed with more reflective interludes, notably the delicate, elegiac ‘Tune for Esme’. Their superb musicianship and well-crafted arrangements are rounded off by that elusive feel-good factor which marks out the best bands, and after repeated listening I still enjoy this CD immensely.

 

Mike Nacey, Shire Folk