Wednesday, 17 August 2016


CD Review

Leaf an' Thorn

There is something really comforting and uplifting about listening to Barbara Dymock. The Scottish singer has a style which is about at traditional as it could be and at the same time has the lightness to lift the worst of moods.

Barbara Dymock
The beauty of her style and singing is its simplicity at performing what she describes as her "granny's auld sangs (sic)". Listening to her, on this second album, you get the sense that this is how they have been sung either by the hearth of many a cottage or in the company of fellow drinkers for generations.
Dymock, originally from Fife, seems very much of the "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" school of thought and it works very well.  Remarkably she took a 20 year break from the music circuit to have children and pursue a medical career.
Fortunately she came back to the music and this uncomplicated collection of songs belies the 10 musicians who all contribute to the album and yet never get in the way of Dymock's singing.
Opening with hopping tune of The Gauger she does have the feel of Ange Hardy who with many of her songs has that same simple but effective style. The gentle guitar playing works in perfect harmony with Dymock's soft tones for what is a lovely, light and cheerful song.
Auld Man is a much more thoughtful and slower ballad. However, once again you have the subtle combination of vocals and guitar which they use so well.
This is followed by one of Jez Lowe's compositions, The Brockie Lads and Dymock may have tinkered with the gender of the subjects but it's executed pretty much as Lowe himself has done it. Unlike the opening tracks this time Dymock is accompanied by Christopher Marra on harmonies and melodica.
Violet Jacob
The title of the album is taken from The Brig, a poem by Violet Jacob, which is one of two Marra has set to music the first being The Heid Horseman. This time Dymock's gentle tones are softly accompanied by Jenny Hanson on fiddle and there is even the odd hint of dobro from Marra too.
Dymock and Marra worked together on their arrangement of Katy Cruel which has all the feel of a madrigal, the choppy lyrics are given character by the mandolin of Marra with the soft intervention of Rosie Lindsay on recorder.
The Earl of Errol is one of those songs which so traditional it reminds you of so many other songs none of which you can pin down. Dymock's gentle Scottish accent has the perfect light touch for this child ballad which has a jaunty rhythm.
The Brig is the second of the poems adapted for the album and despite it's title it does have light sound. however Dymock's style of singing on this track has the feeling of prayer. Again there is the simple stripped down combination of the vocals and guitar which work so well.
Dymock's singing takes on a much stronger Scottish twang for Tibbie Fowler which is not entirely surprising when you consider, along with Auld Man, is the second of two songs gleaned from Robert Burns.
Following this is a lament in Lord Yester where Dymock takes on the tones reminiscent of Maddy Prior with a clear and emotional singing style which  really brings the subject of the ballad to life.
With a title like Dainty Doonby you have to expect a tune you can stomp your feet too and Dymock doesn't disappoint. What's more just when you thought you were going to get away with a Scottish traditional album that didn't have accordion playing along comes Luke Brady to pep things up.
The New album
The Banks of Inverurie is a luxurious and thoughtful song with Dymock again using the light touch of her voice to tell the tale. The longest track on the album at just over six minutes is the penultimate song, Usher's Well, which has a much more modern interpretation.
It has the feel of a song you would expect to hear on Later With Jools Holland with a laid back but strong percussion strand and performed in what is close to a jazz club style.  The final track is Helen of Kirkconnel and is Dymock a Capella.
If you come from a Celtic background this style of singing will bring all sorts of memories flooding back of aunties or uncles, or grandparents around the fire at family gatherings and everyone listening in silence to the lone voice.
If you are into traditional Scottish music that is mostly un-tampered with then Leaf an' Thorn is the motherload. Dymock has a solid, light and thoroughly genuine style of singing and her way of letting the music and lyrics tell the tales is highly commendable and enjoyable.

Leaf an' Thorn is out now through the singer's website and download sites.

You can see Dymock and Marra live at the Whitby Folk Festival, Yorkshire which runs from August 20 to 26. She will be appearing on four days over the festival so check their website for times and ticket information.

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