Craig Morgan Robson without the Morgan – how could the firm keep singing together after the untimely death, back in September 2013, of Sarah Morgan, singer, arranger and teacher par excellence and dear friend to so many of us? But if singing is in the blood, heart and soul, then there’s no stopping, which I feel sure is precisely what Sarah would have expected. Moira and Carolyn have eventually taken the decision to continue as a duo, and to concentrate more on material from their Scottish and Northumbrian roots and heritage – even though they’ll be unable to avoid singing at least some of the songs from the erstwhile CMR repertoire. For “singing together is our way of continuing that feeling of ‘closeness’”, after all – how very true.
This CD, which was conceived early in 2013, is thus dedicated to Sarah’s memory, and gains added poignancy since it (entirely appropriately) includes two tracks that were recorded with Sarah only the week before she died: Rowan Tree and Sair Fyel’d Hinny. These are exceptional recordings indeed, with those rich trademark CMR harmonies present in all their glory. Of course, that’s not to say that the Craig-Robson duo is in any way lacking, for their matchless two-part harmonies are to die for and are nowhere deficient in quality, enterprise or interest.
Then again, an ‘icing on the cake’ hallmark of the CMR repertoire has always been their exceedingly canny choice of material, and that personal tradition continues here with a selection of songs that supplements regional staples from Child and Roud (Weary Cutters, The Dowie Dens Of Yarrow, O The Bonny Fisher Lad) and Burns (Silver Tassie) with brilliant, if lesser-known, examples from the songbooks of contemporary writers. The triumphant melodic contours and slightly awkward register leaps of late master songmaker Terry Conway’s Winter Song seem tailor-made for Carolyn’s flexible voice, and Graeme Miles’ masterly invocation of the landscape of Creekwaterside is chillingly portrayed in the duo’s imaginative harmonies. In contrast, however, Robin Williamson’s powerful early-70s reflection on war and bigotry, Cold Days Of February, might through its close harmony treatment seem a fraction cold, even short-changed in terms of passion. And something of a curiosity is the tale of The Beggar At The Gate, a distinctly traditional-sounding poem by Ian McFadyen for which Carolyn has provided a singularly apt, vivacious tune.
In addition to the quite special harmony arrangements on this disc, each of the ladies gets to sing a couple of songs solo. Moira does a fine job with both The Dowie Dens Of Yarrow and Maggie Holland’s delectable A Proper Sort Of Gardener; the latter is one of only two tracks to sport an instrumental accompaniment, here Andy Johnson’s piano – the other, Carolyn’s solo rendition of Anna Shannon’s deeply evocative winter portrait, The Sheep They Bide, deploys Iris Bishop on duet concertina. Finally, for the record, I’d cast my vote for the new Craig-Robson account of the Jacobite song that furnishes the disc with its title – IMHO it eclipses even the landmark Dick Gaughan version. This song is absolutely typical in presenting Moira and Carolyn’s peerless vocal togetherness and unrivalled expertise, their absolute, unreserved delight in winkling out (notably through their natural yet considered harmony work) the inner subtleties of the songs’ melodies. Carrying on the good work they began with Sarah, and preserving her legacy through her inspiration, on one of the most satisfying vocal CDs you’re likely to hear this year.
So “bring to me a pint of wine”, relax and savour this inordinately fine singing while you raise a glass to Sarah Morgan’s memory.