A Review of the Martin Graebe & Shan Cowan CD
"Parallel Strands"

"Parallel Strands"
by Martin Graebe & Shan Cowan

(WildGoose Studios WGS 323 CD)
Copyright 2005
WildGoose Studios
May Cottage
SP11 7JS
United Kingdom.

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 5/05

This CD arrived on my desk at the exact same moment we lost the great Cyril Tawney. And this proved to be of significance when it came to reviewing this CD. And here is for why.

You see, whenever a major figure takes his final bow, it is inevitable that we critics want to take our own retrospective view of that artiste's often considerable creative output. And in playing my Tawney albums, one LP got played more than the others: his wonderful 1971 album for Trailer “Down Among The Barley Straw”. This Tawney album has, on its cover, these words under its title: “Seduction songs from the Baring-Gould manuscripts”.

Now, the material on these two albums 34 years apart, does not overlap: the repertoire is completely different. But that said, it has this in common: both recordings were made from the standpoint of total respect for the lifetime works of the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould.

And lest you think that is stating the obvious, let me remind you that the said Reverend's long life (1834-1924) had moments in it that were not to everyone's cup of tea. Indeed it is fair to say that the last 34 years have been kinder to him, and his magnificent contribution to Folk Song collecting has been more widely accepted and acknowledged. But back in 1971, Baring-Gould was generally regarded as a narrow-minded Victorian who had committed the gravest of crimes in bowdlerising some of the finest songs he collected. Back then in 1971 at the tail-end of Flower Power and the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, this was seen as nothing short of “cultural vandalism”, and Baring-Gould was regarded by many Folkies as an arch criminal, and quite beyond the pale.

But just as Peter Bellamy did his bit to “rehabilitate” an even greater man's image (Rudyard Kipling) ­ an image that shouldn't have needed rehabilitating - so Cyril Tawney went to work on the Reverend. He pointed out that Baring-Gould was a product of his time, and was able to put his actions in context. And he was also able to show that contrary to popular belief, many of the “offensive” lyrics were indeed kept by Baring-Gould and not destroyed.

And thus we find ourselves today in 2005 and far different times. Martin Graebe and Shan Cowan when making this CD did not find themselves putting their heads up over the parapet (and thus inviting the Folk Mafia to take pot shots). Times are different. Old Sabine is a good guy now.

And Martin Graebe also deserves credit for his long research into Baring-Gould. Graebe is noted for his considerable knowledge on his subject. And these two singers met a few years ago at the “Baring-Gould Study Break”. Thus it is that this duo have been singing together for a goodly while now: and it shows. They have that blending of voices that rarely comes overnight.

This was originally planned as an “a cappella” album, but some musician chums asked if they could have some input. And the album is all the better for them. I particularly liked Keith Kendrick's fine concertina accompaniment.

Nothing on the album grated, and every track paid its rent on the CD. Ask me for a stand-out track and I have to give you an answer that may disappoint Sabine's true fans: Track 14, “From Severn, By The Somme”. It is one of several Graebe originals on this CD, written simpatico with the Baring-Gould collection (hence the album's title “Parallel Strands”). But it shows Graebe's abilities as a songwriter to the full.

A “must” for fans of Sabine Baring-Gould, and a strong “maybe” for others.

Website: http://www.wildgoose.co.uk
E-mail: doug@wildgoose.co.uk

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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