Katie Howson & Jeannie Harris


Old Hat Music - OH4CD

I was rather worried when this one dropped on the mat - it's never easy to review something done by friends.   And Katie and Jeannie are both old friends, whose music and songs I enjoy and admire, and with whom I've played in countless wonderful sessions.   Jeannie and KatieBut the few formal club or concert gigs we've heard have largely failed to live up to the promise of the informal music and I was concerned that the recording studio might have had a similar effect.

Fortunately, such fears were quite groundless and the CD manages to catch some splendid performances of a lovely selection of wonderful tunes from all over the world - which, nonetheless, sound as if they are fully at home in southern England - great stuff!

Both women have developed a style on the one-row melodeon which is at once individual and yet strongly based on the traditional models they have become familiar with over a good number of years of listening and playing with the few remaining traditional players.  This is, perhaps, enhanced by the fact that there have been relatively few other revivalist players of this instrument, whose influence might have eroded the traditional style - as is so often the case.

Moreover, they have retained their own individuality depite a long term musical relationship - in a live situation it's very easy to hear the differences, perhaps because one can also see the physical movements involved.  Here, robbed of the visual clues, the individual styles are less easy to separate - maybe this is a good thing, making for a more cohesive music, or perhaps the two styles complement each other so well that a little more separation in the mix might make for more interesting listening experience.  I think I would favour the latter for long-term musical satisfaction.

Jeannie Harris's singing, of which we've been champions for a good number of years, had grown rather mannered recently in concert situations.   But she has clearly realised that, for a record where a performance may be listened to over and over again, a calmer and more natural approach would be a better option.   It's a difficult thing to learn songs from traditional singers like Phoebe Smith - trying to capture the style and passion of a bravura performance - without sounding like a pastiche.   Here she succeeds, perhaps most effectively on Molly Varden (strangely transformed into Vaughan in the booklet notes), play Sound Clipand gives what is now very much her own reading of perhaps the best version of this wonderful ballad ever to have been discovered (sound clip).  The other songs are Green Bushes (from the singing of Geoff Ling), Captain Thunderbold (Phoebe Smith) and One Fine Morning Early in Spring (Fred Whiting).

All the tunes are so enjoyable that it's hard to pick out any for special mention, but personal favourites include Jack's Rambles, Captain White's Jig, Paddy Godden's Lancers play Sound Clipand a spendid set of tunes from the Tohono O'Odham native Americans of the Sonora Desert in New Mexico - Squashfields/Sonora Two-Step (sound clip) /Peanut Shoes - passed on to Katie and Jeannie by Bayou Seco.  I really love this music!

A very good record indeed and thoroughly recommended to any and everyone.  Available from Veteran Tapes - get to their web site via our Links page.

Rod Stradling - 15.10.98

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