Saturday, 19 March 2016


CD Review

The Watchmaker's Wife

When it comes to folk musicians Miranda Sykes is among the most respected female performers, a position she has earned by hard work, an abundance of talent and, seemingly, being almost everywhere. 

Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston
This of course is not to take anything away from her music partner Rex Preston who is part of her other life outside of Show of Hands where she is the indispensable third party alongside Phil Beer and Steve Knightley.
Preston holds his own grandeur as being among the most highly rated mandolin players around and together they are a formidable force of folk.
Even though they have only been a duo for six years it seems much longer and The Watchmaker's Wife is their third studio album together.
It has to be noted that it's not the most likely of pairings with the double bass and the mandolin but such is the talent of Sykes and Preston, they make it work. What's more remarkable is the album was recorded in her sitting room.
The title and opening track straight away introduces us to Sykes' silky tones which is brought in on top of Preston's mandolin. It's Preston who provides the harmonies as well as the definite backing with his distinctive strings. Not only does Sykes provide the lyrics but also the growling bass which takes the song out. It's Preston's turn to open proceedings as they switch roles with S.A.D from Boo Hewerdine. Preston's voice adds a nice contrast and it has a harder edge than Sykes. The interval gives you a chance to really appreciate how they blend the deep resonance of the double bass with the light, in comparison, almost tinny sound of the mandolin. Preston's songwriting talents are on display with Rosie which is dotted with effects and has a very contemporary feel to it. It could easily be passed off as a track from The Levellers.
Miranda and her signature double bass
He keeps the pace going fairly sharply in what is pretty close to a solo performance.This gives way to his arrangement of Good Natured Man which gives you a real earful of just how he can make the notes dance on the strings of his mandolin with what, in places, is close to a hornpipe. Once again during the instrumental break, where Preston adds a slight jazz feel to his picking, you get Sykes sneaking in to show how well the two instruments can be harmonised when in the hands of a couple of class musicians.
They borrow the next track Swedish from Blazin Fiddles and the gentle instrumental has both the light of Preston's playing and depth of Sykes'. It's a beautifully executed piece and one of the real treats on an album of fascinating tracks.
Sykes' creamy tones come back for the traditional song of lost love in Bonnie Light Horseman. She has such a precision in her singing which gives the lament a real depth of emotion. Going to the West is remarkably close to Annie Lennox's Into The West which was used for one of the soundtracks on the Lord of the Rings. It's obviously a different song but the style Sykes' adopts gives the song a real familiarity and the stripped down ballad works extremely well.
Leaving Song sort of creeps up on you with Preston showing his laid back style for his composition. This laconic ballad is a very thoughtful song and the way Preston sings it, he makes it sound very personal.
The new album
Preston turns his voice up a notch in the following track, Waste of the Moon. This starts off quite slowly but between them they turn it into a full bodied ballad. He pulls another instrumental out of his musical bag for the penultimate track. (Insert Name) Waltz is a perfect forum to show off his skills on the mandolin and he goes for it in what does remind a little of Classical Gas with Sykes adding the colour again and bringing in that depth with rumble of her strings.
Sykes takes out the album with Exile's Return and more than any other track you get to hear just how incredibly her voice is, it is so smooth and she weaves up and down the scale with such ease making every syllable count.
This album is Sykes and Preston and very little else and such is their respective talents that nothing or anyone else is needed. They have taken just their voices and their instruments, got together in a sitting room and produced an album that is complex without being inaccessible, thoughtful without being pretentious and enjoyable throughout.

The Watchmaker's Wife is out now released through Hands On Music.