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Barry McDonald & Marooan
BARRY McDONALD AND MAROOAN
"Where the Sun-Lights on the Drew Drops Shine"
Harbourtown HARCD034

Barry McDonald has dunked himself thoroughly in the traditional music of the New England Tablelands in northern New South Wales to give us a 54-minute album of songs and tunes learned directly from older bush musicians. In the full and scholarly liner notes he explains his aim of displaying the music of a turn-of-the-century social gathering which would have valued emotional communication above "virtuosic displays designed chiefly to impress". Flash and brash are as welcome here as slugs in the salad.

Happily, the album gets beyond dogma and is middling good fun too. Only middling? Barry's singing is ... well, homely is the kindest description. But the material is robust enough - including a one-night stand with "The Indian Lass"; a boxing match between "McCluskey and O'Shule" (the latter an oddly named Englishman); and in "Green Light Upon the Green", as bawdy a folk song as ever my innocent ears did hear. The album's title is from "Woodbine Hill", a tale of lost love sung by Maisie Kelly, an Aboriginal lady.

Seven songs are matched and surpassed by seven mellow sets of tunes of English, Scots, Irish and European origin. Barry and the other members of Marooan (Catherine and Theresa Nano, Cathy Ovenden and Maz Plane) run through scottisches, waltzes, jigs, mazurkas, hornpipes and reels in the leisurely manner of musicians who know the dancing lasts till daybreak. They use elderly squeezeboxes, and the clack of buttons and wheeze of bellows is curiously comforting. They are also accomplished fiddlers in the prescribed non-virtuosic manner. The aim of playing with "quiet passion, clarity and simplicity" is easily achieved.

This labour of love interestingly demonstrates how different music traditions can meet on foreign ground. Barry McDonald and Marooan - and Harbourtown - are to be commended for seeing the project through.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 28 of The Living Tradition magazine.