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THE SIMON MAYOR QUINTET "Mandolinquents" Acoustics CDACS034

I'd hate to be a mandolinist. The perceived preconception that it is an instrument limited to folky music would send me loopy. And yet here I am reviewing an album of mandolin music for a magazine supposedly devoted to traditional music, which contains a mixture of light classics, show tunes, oh, and a smattering of traditional and traditionally-influenced material. What the heck!

In making this album, Simon Mayor and his merry crew set-out to "pay homage to the heyday of mandolin orchestras (the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 1780s) and to raise the level of mandolin consciousness for generations to come ..."

Eeeek! I thought Troise and his Mandoleers reincarnate? Thankfully no.

This is a quality album. It's extremely well played, and Simon's arrangements avoid both the syrup of the aforementioned Senor Troise, and the dire plunkyness which seems to be inevitable in many other fretted instrument ensembles. One or two also raise a smile. Hearing the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" played by a mandolin trio plus guitar and (mando)bass left me with a fit of the giggles, despite the obvious tonal fit with the original celeste part. I was less happy hearing Hilary James singing "Beat out that Rhythm on a Drum". This is nothing terribly negative; the arrangement was fine, but Hilary's voice just doesn't have the depth for this song. On the other hand her singing of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" is only just on the good side of brilliant, and she's totally in her element on "He's Gone Away".

The other members of the band deserve honourable mentions. Gerald Garcia is a lovely guitarist, and his arrangement of "Plum Blossoms in the Snow" for guitar and mandolin is worth more than a listen. It's good to hear Maartin Alcock in an acoustic environment. As "mandocellist-in-chief" he's also a convincing double bass player! Richard Collins has a pretty deft set of fingers, and I was also pleased to hear Banbury's most famous fiddle playing son, Chris Leslie, contributing, amongst other things, a typically handsome violin part on "Down in the Sally Gardens".

If you play the mandolin, you'll probably have bought this. If you don't, perhaps you should, as it might well open your eyes to the possibilities of this instrument and its relatives.

Chris Bartram