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DAMIEN BARBER "The Furrowed Field" DJC Records DJCD11

Damien seems a bit concerned in the cover photo of this CD - which meant the album was instantly rechristened 'The Furrowed Brow' by this house. Fortunately, the cause of the concern has in no way communicated itself onto the disc - 'The Furrowed Field' is ploughed expertly and ought to yield a grand harvest. Which is just about enough metaphorical agriculture for one review.

Damien is a unique communicator of song. His measured, deliberate delivery is more akin to the best traditional singers, and like them, he places the words of the song at the heart of his performance. This is not to say that the music suffers as a result - just the opposite, in fact. His concertina accompaniments were always sound, and now he is a guitarist of great worth (sounding to my ears not unlike the early Nic Jones). He has also taken the bold step of including backing vocalists on several tracks, and never one for half measures he has managed to enlist not only The Wilsons, but also Grace Notes. About half the songs are harmonically enhanced by one or other group, with a full house on the final track as Snoats and Wislons shadow Damien's meanderings "Down The Moor" in a gleeful and glorious finale. And there's more - Steve Tilston's guitar and Maggie Boyle's flute join him for "The Munster Cloak", all of which indicates the respect that his fellow artists have for his music.

It's a respect richly deserved. His choice of material is inspired, from Mick Ryan's "My Enemy" and Martin Simpson's "The Turtle and the Asp" to the traditional might of Bellamy's "On Board a Ninety-Eight" and Carthy's "Bill Norrie". He possesses each song completely, makes it his own, then gives it to us. We should be grateful.

Alan Rose

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This album was reviewed in Issue 39 of The Living Tradition magazine.