This review is written by Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org, 10/05
Well, it has arrived. The much-awaited follow-up album to their
2003 critical success, “Changeling”. And it has proved to be worth the
Crucible is a 4-piece folk band (2 men, 2 women) based in the north of England. Guitars, fiddles, violas, melodeons and pipes make up their normal sound…and also the exotic cittern plays a bit part here.
They have again succeeded in coming up with a CD that is a nice mix of the traditional and the contemporary (including some self-penned): but that in itself is perhaps unexceptional. What marks this effort out from the mass is the fact that they somehow put their own stamp on it: one could not mistake it for anyone else's album.
There are many high points on the album. (I make no mention of the quality of their command of their instruments and their singing voices: the fact they can really PRODUCE, is I think a “given”.)
We start with “Sorry the Day I was Married”, track 4. (Forgive me using capitals and not the lower case that they use throughout the excellent WildGoose liner notes: put it down to force of habit.)
I often wonder why artistes feel driven to find another tune to match the words of an already tried and tested folk classic! Generally speaking I am against the habit, even when they find one that works nicely, e.g. take Keith Kendrick's use of a favourite hymn-tune to set to “Life of a Man”.
Yes it worked fine, but you could not improve on the melody
favoured by The Copper Family/Roy Harris/Cyril Tawney. How can you
improve on perfection?
But with them using a tune they got from Nancy Kerr and adding some extra verses from J.O. Halliwell's “Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales” they somehow have made the song come up fresh and with at least two new layers of texture/clothing (meaning?), to make us ponder anew on a ballad that may to some of us have slightly lost its flavour on the bedpost overnight.
Gavin Davenport's “Thieves' Song” also engaged me, though that said it is worth pointing out that it is decidedly “parti pris” in its attitude to beggars and vagrants. Indeed, by comparison, Ewan MacColl's rosy-spectacled “Freeborn Man of the Travelling People” would seem to be a veritable hatchet job on gipsy folk!
I was also taken by a George Butterworth song “the 14th of November” and a rather bleak traditional ballad “Whipping Cheer” (well we don't ALL want our songs a “laugh-a-minute”, do we now?).
But despite their merits, these pale beside the finest cut on the album, that great favourite of a million singarounds, “Old Horse” (track 12).
How can such a staple item be so darned enjoyable? Simple. By taking it, a tad slower than usual like Herbert von Karajan was conducting Crucible there in the Hampshire studios of WildGoose! - we thus had greater importance placed on the poignant lyric, and the words really hit home.
But more, one of the girls (I think Jess, but I would not bet
my handkerchief let alone my SHIRT on it) takes up a
fabulous harmonic line in the chorus: a line that so suits the song.
There is a warm melancholy in the timbre of her voice here: it reminds
me (more than anyone I have heard in the 40 years since I first
encountered her) of the glorious ethereal harmony of Kathleen McPeake.
Any minuses? (After all, this is supposed to be a review, not a puff-job!)
Well, if I am to be hyper-critical, I would have to say that I
wasn't totally enamoured of track 3, Ron Angel's “Chemical Worker's
Song”. I remember seeing the Teesside Fettlers circa 1970/71 when Vin
Extraordinaire was a member. It was a song that even then never quite
won me over (though, that said, I well appreciated its sentiments).
But paradoxically the song suits them really well. They could have made a better job of it that anyone has up to now (including Mr. G himself!).
So how is this song a “minus”? Easy to explain. Note I said “COULD have made a better job”. Truth is that they are by their own high standards slightly ragged every time, when it comes to the last line of the chorus. Or more specifically, the last word of the chorus. Listen to the singing of the word “death” each time. One voice is always slightly “out”.
But that said, this is a minor criticism of this 2005 CD: a release that builds on the good work already done in their 2003 album.
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