Wednesday 16 July 2014


CD Review

The Call

It's reassuring that the future of folk music is in the hands of young award-winning and acclaimed artists such as Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar.

Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
They have only been together since 2011, a year later they made their extremely well received first album The Queen's Lover and here we are two years later with another full album.
No one can say these two immensely talented young musicians have not been making their presence felt on the folk scene.
The Call is the perfect antidote to a lot of music around which is masquerading under the folk banner.
This is a contemporary album which drips tradition. Russell and Algar wisely play to their strength throughout these tracks. They have more than half decent voices but their real ability to shine is in their deep talent as versatile musicians.
Roses Three is what sets out the young duo's stall and with the narrative of the trial of love, this simple story is given flesh and bones by Russell's solid singing and the wonderfully lyrical accompaniment of Algar's fiddle. As a whole it is a perfect example of what modern folk can be, paying homage to the tradition and still giving it a fresh dressing.
Their musical skills are given a real airing with tripart instrumental The Silent Jigs, the other two parts of which are The Cat's Meow and Overboard. If there was ever any doubt in your mind about their skills and maturity as musicians then this set of jigs should dispel any nagging uncertainties. The confidence and clarity of the fiddle playing is a pleasure to hear and the subtle picking of the banjo in the background reminds of the legendary Dubliners.
Ciaran Algar
Greg Russell
This is such a reassuring album and demonstrates all that is good in folk music.
The lively jigs give away to the slower and mellow ballad of Royal Comrade. This is a lovely uncluttered song that is essentially Russell and his guitar with highlights added by the fiddle, concertina and beautiful harmony of Elly Lucas.
It doesn't really get more traditional than The Workhouse where you could take Russell's singing and transplant into any age of folk and it would fit. Once again the subtle undertones of Lucas and Algar add colourful strands to a stand alone song almost gilding the lily, if it wasn't for the fact it's lovely to listen to as Russell tells the tale.
The Rose In June is more of a poem set to gentle music than a song as such. Russell's voice opens alone but then the simple piano notes add gems of sound which are soon joined by the melancholy sound of Algar's fiddle, which gives it a very powerful and emotive expression. The songs strong religious undertones bring a spiritual element to it which give real life to the characters captured in the lyrics.
It's an inflammatory and controversial subject to sing about but The Cockfight tells of an aspect of life which most find unsavoury but cannot be ignored because it's a part of British culture and certainly of "lower" class culture from where many folk songs emanated.
The duo's version of this traditional song neither glorifies the barbaric practise nor takes a moral stance it's straightforward musical account of things which went on and still do to this day. The bouzouki takes centre stage on this one as the event is unfolded by the lyrics which build up to a crescendo much as the fight and the excitement of the onlookers would have done.
Absent Friends is a gorgeously mellow and rich instrumental which more than anything tells you why these young musicians deserve the high regard in which they are held.
Algar's original work Away From The Pits isn't what it seems, it's a metaphorical tale of lost love which could be masquerading as a political statement but there is plenty of scope to add your own interpretation. But whichever conclusion you come to it's again a very contemporary song which has that built in traditional feel to it and is very much in the Dick Gaughan camp of songwriting.
Russell & Algar's new album The Call
The title track, The Call and Answer, written by Phil Colclough, opens with the evocative sound of the concertina and Russell's voice, which doesn't sound entirely comfortable singing at first. The harmonising of Lucas is not quite balanced, her gentle accompaniment is a little lost among the deepness of Russell's voice and the breathy tune of the squeezebox.
Russell seems to be working at the bottom end of his range on this one and his voice never sounds entirely comfortable but this gives more of an honest and an organic feel.
There is some lovely mountain-style fiddle playing from Algar on Cold Missouri Waters with Russell's voice having that melancholy tone as he sings of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. His singing has a certain tremble on this track almost as if he is struggling to keep his emotions under control, which adds a nice sentimental touch. Algar is given free rein with the fiddle on George's a medley which comes from a private joke, with Russell providing an unobtrusive accompaniment on his guitar. The four parts build in pace until the tunes reach the final quarter Crooked Road to Dublin.
On the way the skilled hands of Algar produce a sound to match the greats such as the classically smooth sound of John Sheahan, the earthy and jazzed up sound of Tom McConville and the raw power and conviction of Seth Lakeman.
A much slower ballad, A Season In Your Arms, written by Algar takes the album out and you realise what value you are getting with the remarkable way the duo impeccably arrange traditional songs but then the there is the freshness and depth of their own work to enjoy.
In a relatively short time, Russell and Algar, although they have been playing from a very young age, have developed a maturity in their playing and composition which makes them stand out.
If the folk world has put out a call to secure the future of traditional music then this duo is part of the answer. They have managed to produce the sound of folk from the past and the sound of folk for times to come.

The Call is out now on Fellside Records

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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