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JULIE MURPHY "Black Mountains revisited" Beautiful Jo BEJOCD26

To get the best out of this CD you have to give your best. There are layers of substance and if you listen with only scant attention you stand in danger of much of the subtlety and nuance pass you by. It's about nine years since I saw this waif-like girl with the big voice hold a hall enthralled with a voice that could inspire exuberance with one song, and gentle melancholy with the next.

On the strength of this record there have been both gains and losses. There is greater control and authority and the undoubted assurance that has come with the passage of the years and greater life experience. I mention subtlety too - yes, there is much evidence of that on "Black is the Colour" where the slight upward inflection on the last word on the penultimate verse lines give it an old timey feel and it's easy to believe she learned it from the singing of Jean Ritchie. I feel there is just a trifle too much restraint on the two opening tracks "Oxford City" and "The Farmer", but on the latter I have difficulty shaking the Dave Burland version out of my head, and on the former which incorporates "Poison in a Glass of Wine" I'd heard her sing a faster, looser and to be frank more kickass version from a decade ago which might have been rougher but also seemed "righter". There is considerable beauty here though and "Polly Vaughan" has never sounded better, whilst "Bethel" sung in Welsh is fine indeed.

The musicianship which includes people like Danny Cox and Martin Simpson is impeccable and there is only one track "Sylvie" which I found jarred, being "Sovay" in contemporary clothing meeting with the traditional tune which Dylan popularised as "Masters of War" (I can't remember what it is and am too lazy to dig out the old vinyl to remind myself). I would have loved to have been able to heap unstinting praise on this album, and, don't get me wrong what is on here is good - it's rather what is absent that I miss. I don't want another June Tabor - leave her to her thing and let the joyous side of Julie Murphy burst through a bit more; it's just a tad premature in life to shelve its fun loving side. Hard to write but best said now perhaps and I'm sure it shouldn't deter anyone from buying what is well sung well-played album.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 34 of The Living Tradition magazine.