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FINALITY JACK "Glory Be" Wildgoose WGS288CD
USHNA "Twice Brewed" Fellside FECD132

This Northamptonshire trio debut with an album of completely original, all instrumental, material played on violins, bouzouki, accordion, spiced with occasional Finnish kantele and percussive overdubs for good measure.

Stand out tracks feature influences from France and Scandinavia. "The Blind Venetian / Pillar to Post" for example has a bourree-esque tune twinned with a nice keyed fiddle feel which works surprisingly well. "'Pale like Pernod" is very, very nice in a nice sort of a way, and is very representative of the chamber music feel with lots of obvious classical leanings.

Overall the album has the feel of a smashing polytechnic post graduate show, bursting with ideas, sourced from far and wide and served up with lashings of crisps and lemonade, a ready made meal for Sunday lunch after chapel. There are often too many influences to try and make sense of where a lot of this material is coming from.

Finality Jack never really cut loose. A good change of pace here and there wouldn't go amiss and as all the lead instruments also carry all the rhythms there is a tendency for things to get very cluttered. But in general the musicianship is very good throughout and if this album passes your way it's probably worth a listen.

Ushna's album, subtitled "Music and Song from the Heart of Northumbria" strives to paint a musical portrait of their native countryside, exploring many of the colourful characters and events from down the years.

Instrumentally, they feature Sean Barry's delicate harpwork, alongside Sarah Fisher's handy fiddle playing, which is amply accompanied by Billy Stewart on guitar. Ms Kathyrn Tickell also guests on a couple of tracks keeping in touch with her musical roots.

But vocally the band are much stronger than some of the more ragged instrumentals and Ushna's trump card is the singing of Jackie Barry, who has a fine, strong voice. Her interpretation of a song like "Felton Lonnen" is well focused, backed with unfussy arrangements which allow the natural sense of such a song to unfold.

Overall Ushna sound remarkably like Ossian from their early days, no bad thing that, and with the particularly Northumbrian slant, well detailed through the excellent sleeve notes, this album is worth investigating to discover more about an often neglected part of this country's musical tradition.

Iain McQueen

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This album was reviewed in Issue 30 of The Living Tradition magazine.