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SALLY BARKER "Favourite Dish" Hypertension HYCD296 165
SILEAS "Play on Light" Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX118

These two albums appear in the wake of Sally Barker quitting The Poozies and they both make statements of musical independence. The Sileas faction go back to traditional roots while Ms Barker flies off at wonderful tangents, seemingly revelling in her new found freedom away from the distinctive Poozies sound.

"Play on Light" is the fourth album from Patsy Seddon and Mary MacMaster and it is an ambitious project. Again the interplay between the two very different harps (one gut strung and the other strung with brass, phosphor bronze and steel harpsichord wire) is stunning. But it is the contrast in material which really surprises. The album opens with "Buain A'Choirce" - a bewitching song, delivered in the original Gaelic. It then changes tone, mixing twinkling harp tunes like "Miss Kirsten Lindsay Morrison" with depressive laments - some of which are too studied to be moving. On "May Colvin", for example, Mary MacMAster saddles an irritating monotone of a tune to a traditional narrative. It's all a bit too self-consciously primitive - the verse deserved better than that.

Lovely though it is to hear the music of the Gaelic language sung by the duo, the song of the album for me is "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers. In theory this blues standard should jar on an album of traditional-sounding material, but it doesn't. Somehow Sileas draw the lyrics into a Scottish setting, with the harps giving out as much melancholy as any blues guitar. Forget the image of the Dustbowl ranch-hand strumming in his rocking chair, the lyrics are suddenly about a sailor's wife awaiting the return of her man. This one piece of musical trickery makes the album worthwhile.

Bad blood among The Poozies can be sensed when you see that not one of Sally Barker's former musical soul-mates contribute to her new album "Favourite Dish". You smell bridges burning throughout this album and it is the better for that. "Moses", the opening number, is a link with days of Poozies past but from here on it's about Sally Barker finding a gutsy new sound of her own.

The title song brings in a superb sax solo to finish, while the flute on "Blue Moon" complements Barker's gravelly lower register. "Landing Light", with its melodeon backing, is pastiche French cafe stuff but Sally Barker is at her best with tales of angst and misery. "The Honeymoon is Over", for example, is a quite remarkable number about the misery of growing apart. The throw-away final lines "Its just another sentimental tale/And we don't need to hear them any more" chill long after the song has finished. Similarly, "Sleepy Eyes" delivered dangerously slowly, pushes close to the edge of Leonard Cohen territory - but works wonderfully well.

This album is a triumph intelligent, soulful lyrics are matched with inventive instrumentation and flawless production. "Favourite Dish" is definitely one of my favourite albums of the year.

Fred Redwood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 19 of The Living Tradition magazine.