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ANAM "Riptide" JVC 90342

Since this time last year, Anam have added Cornish mandolin - and bouzouki-player Neil Davey to the trio of Treasa Harkin, Aimee Leonard and Brian O hEadhra. On this recording they've also added seven guest musicians and a string ensemble. Despite this swelling of their ranks, Anam's sound has become much tighter and punchier. What's more, it's still almost purely acoustic. Anam's vocals have always been strong, with a songwriter and two good voices in the band. They can turn their larynxes to English, Irish and Scots material, and write their own at will. On this album, they have also regained the instrumental flair of their debut recording. The combination of tight, sparkling tunes, good lyrics and soaring voices should be a winner.

"Riptide" is a baker's dozen tracks with seven songs and six instrumentals. There are four new songs from Brian, two traditional Scottish songs sung by Aimee, and one written by Sean Mac Ambrois which sounds more traditional than contemporary. Two of the songs are in Irish, a lament for lost love and a song of homesickness, standard Gaelic themes and I hope no reflection on Anam's move from Dublin to Edinburgh. The other five are in English, and are mainly about love. The simple but touching "This Time" is given a folk-pop arrangement which contrasts completely with the mournful "Kjetil's Song" that follows. The two Scottish numbers have been part of Anam's live set for some time, and are both given a quite traditional treatment here.

The instrumentals bear the stamp of newcomer Neil Davey, who has effectively replaced founder member Myles Farrell. There are seven of Neil's compositions on this CD, together with a couple from Brian and a handful of traditional tunes. On the title track, two Neil Davey tunes sit happily with a traditional Irish reel, but a few minutes later Neil's Cornish roots break the surface in a lovely set of gavottes with a rare English Celtic feel. The middle of the album features two sets of Neil Davey tunes back to back, and again the combination of Celtic fire and pastoral grace works well. The pace is there when required, but nothing is frenzied or frantic. The instrumentals were a bit of a problem on Anam's last release, "First Footing" (see LT21), but on "Riptide" they're altogether tighter and more confident.

Remaining problems? A couple, but nothing too serious. Treasa is left rather exposed at times, and the girls' fine whistle-playing seems to have been replaced by guests on sax and tin sandwich. The band also seems short of background knowledge in a few cases: "Mary and the Soldier" is perhaps better known as "Come all ye Lads of High Renown", a line which Aimee doesn't sing; "Fourteen Days" seems to owe something to "By and By, Lord"; and the sleeve notes are generally very thin. This is really just nit-picking, though, and we all have nits if you look closely enough.

"First Footing" put Anam on the fast track. "Riptide" has set the pace. Perhaps the final track of this album will provide the title of the next: "The Way is Clear".

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 27 of The Living Tradition magazine.