This review is written by Dai Woosnam,email@example.com, 10/06
Do you know how it is when you get a new box of wine gums on Christmas Day?
Don't you want to just SCOFF all the black ones, and leave all the other colours for the visitors who arrive on Boxing Day?
But you don't, because it is against the Christmas spirit somehow.
However one Christmas I accidentally did something far worse. Rather than commit the “raiding the wine gums” equivalent on a giant box of chocolates (still beribboned and glowing in its cellophane), I decided to resist going for a swift commando raid on the Caramel and the Turkish Delight. Instead I put the whole box away for several months, until my birthday fell the following summer.
Such self control! My Orson Welles waistline of today, is living proof that such self-restraint is not a regular trait of mine!
But that said, occasionally I can surprise myself with my degree of discipline. Take this album for instance.
It arrived on my desk quite a while ago. It was as you will see above - from this fine duo based in Minneapolis. And thereby hangs a tale.
You see, about 54 months ago, I reviewed a rather wonderful previous CD of theirs.
What a charming album that proved. Real healing balm for the soul.
Even BEFORE you play it.
For as you will see if you read that review, these people are the ABSOLUTE MASTERS in knowing how to present an album for review. I swear to God that the Archbishop of Canterbury did not put the Crown on to the young Queen Elizabeth's head back in 1953 with any more reverence than Loretta presents her new CD to potential reviewers.
And with this new album, their impeccable standards of presentation have not been lowered one iota.
So what has this got to do with boxes of wine gums/chocolates, you ask?
Easy. This CD of theirs was just as tempting.
I have had it an age on my desk, with it almost IMPLORING me to open up the ever-so-stylish packaging. But I have stood fast. After all, I always tell the often doomed aspirants out there, that I have a policy of reviewing CDs strictly in the order they are sent me. So, I really HAVE to look at myself in the mirror and say NO to my cravings, sometimes.
But three days ago, the witching hour came when Curtis & Loretta got to the top of the pile, and golly, I have SO enjoyed the last three days.
Unlike their last album I reviewed, which concentrated on traditional songs from the British Isles (I refuse to be politically correct and call it “songs from the UK and the Republic of Ireland”, because it is a GEOGRAPHICAL name and not a POLITICAL one!), this album features at least 50 % self-penned material (usually by Loretta) plus one or two of the great Folk “standards”.
And it is a delight from start to finish.Stop! Strike that word “delight”. There are moments when you feel the tears start to well-up.
But generally the mood is upbeat and they pull off with aplomb most of what they attempt.
Where to begin? Well like my famous fellow-Welshman said “To begin at the beginning”. Track 1 sees the duo setting out their stall. Showing you how well their voices blend: her voice could be taken for Anne Hills (and on a good day at that!) and his is a curious mix of Andy Irvine crossed with Burl Ives.
A good song that welcomes you into the record and tells you that you needn't take your shoes off.
But it is track 4 that sees the album really come alive with a very moving tribute to her dad (and mum indeed). The words really register.
Melodically perhaps it is in need of a stronger tune, but then
I think that this somewhat indistinct melody is PERFECTLY expressive of
the blurred edges that come with Alzheimer's.
A real masterstroke is track 8. Now, normally, I would be tearing a strip off Curtis and Loretta for having the chutzpah to call a 21 second slot a “track”. After all, I have just reviewed an album which sees Dave Swarbrick asking in live performance “How are we doing for time?”, and those bounders have the audacity to call it a track!! (There was another similar little stunt pulled on the same CD. And all it ends up doing, is making some po-faced professional complainant take the CD to his local Trading Standards Office and accuse the label of trying to claim two more tracks for the album than were actually there!)
But, as I say, Curtis & Loretta are exonerated here. Why? Well their 21 seconds is just the inspired and indeed MAGICAL use of a voicemail message. And WHAT a voicemail message!
Whether it was the fact that I have just come back from visiting that hell-on-earth of a place called Auschwitz, I know not, but one thing for sure, the voicemail touched my heart. It was the message of a now-octogenarian heroine of a death camp of WW2, who had just made contact for the first time ever to say that she had so liked the song that Loretta had written about her.
And then we come to Track 9, that very song, made even more poignant by its juxtapositioning with the phone message.
But it is track 11 that sees the album reach its artistic zenith. “Harps in Heaven” sees Loretta really write a gem: and more to the point, the duo deliver it with brio (helped by Sandy Njoes on bass fiddle and Bill Philipp on banjo and accordion). A hugely catchy tune, and boy, can she not play that Celtic harp!!
(Incidentally, I love her upper-class English accent for the gatekeeper at the Pearly Gates! That is ME roasted then when it comes to my turn, what with my South Wales Valleys' accent!)
The other song that pushes track 11 close for the Palme d'or, is track 13.
A really authentic bluegrass sound with Peter Ostroushko in fine fettle with his fiddle.
Any quibbles? Well, the liner notes are I feel a bit wasted. How come?
Well, like everything to do with this classy duo, they are handsomely produced with black print on a white background. No stupid “myriad colours in the background” for them (thus meaning the whole thing would become impossible to read!)
No, the liner notes have the HIGHEST production values. Pity is, that they are wasted with lyrics.
Look, if my house was on fire and I needed someone to rattle my address down the phone to the fire brigade ultra quickly, then ‘tis these two I would choose!
Their diction is top-drawer. Thus, the space used by lyrics would have been better used by the duo talking more about each song.
But that is a minor caveat. Otherwise, I can hardly fault the album.
Buy it from the artistes direct. You will not go wrong.
LS = Loretta Simonet
CT = Curtis Teague
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