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WALTERS & WARNER "Who Was Here" Feathers & Wedge FWCD043

The professional partnership of Margaret Walters and John Warner is, in my estimation, one of the best in Australia. I first heard them live in England four years ago and have been an avid follower of their music ever since. Margaret's singing endears her to me because she sings nice and straight in her own Australian accent - without frills or stylisation - she phrases in a way that makes sense. That may seem like an obvious approach to a song but few singers do it. She has a warm rich voice and, with a minimum of ornamentation, puts the song across in direct Australian fashion that occasionally suggests an Aussie version of Sara Grey or even Ray Fisher.

John Warner is one of the most underestimated songwriters and singers in Australia. His style of singing is also direct and unaffected and a little rough around the edges. His songs take you back in time with meticulous attention to historical and social fact without sounding pedantic.

His subjects are the people of the past, their struggles, and the marks they left on the land, with lyrics that ring to the sound of hammer and pick, and ooze steam and hot oil. Railway and canal buildings, engine drivers and whores are celebrated, through songs that generally embrace the traditional idiom - the vivid "William Conquest Turland" is set to the superb "Lowlands of Holland" air - but branch out here and there into smokily evocative bar-room jazz ("Railway Widow's Blues") and old-timey banjo frailing, on "Pale Horse". The latter, possibly the best Warner original here, deals bitterly with the impact of gold prospectors on landscape and native peoples. "Song of the Sheet Metal Worker" could easily have come from Warner's pen, but is in fact by John Dengate, another gutsy Australian writer.

Elsewhere W & W perform effective covers of MacColl ("Kilroy") and Jez Lowe ("The Bergen"), adapt Fred Small's "I Will Stand Fast" to fit any English festival singaround, and feature Margaret singing "The Outside Track" as poignantly as anyone could wish. I don't think, though, that the two Warner kids' songs fit into what is otherwise a fairly tightly-themed album. Well worth seeking out.

Sara Peterson

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This album was reviewed in Issue 24 of The Living Tradition magazine.