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CHRIS NEWMAN "Fretwork" Old Bridge Music OBMCD11
What do you get when an acoustic guitarist of Chris Newman's stature asserts total quality control over his first solo album in fifteen long years? When he writes fourteen of its seventeen tracks, chooses the lustrous likes of Maire Ni Chathasaigh (who else?) and her sister Nollaig Casey to play on harp and fiddle, and records and produces it himself on his own label? The answer, of course, is total quality. More surprisingly, this forty-nine minute CD isn't just for pickers and pluckers but is delightfully accessible to musical illiterates like me.

This stuff is for heart and feet as well as head and fingers. A cerebral, guitar tutor approach would never have stuck the foolish grin on my face, or had me dancing round the room bashing into furniture. The tunes range from swing and ragtime, through reflective baroque and pastoral folk, to jigs, reels and polskas in or from the Irish, Scots, American and Swedish traditions.

There's less of a jazz tinge than expected, which suits me well. The common factor is that Chris has lived with most of these tunes for years and now wants to share their character with us more than he wants to show off his skills. Special mentions for "The Albatross Waltz" (one of three bird inspired pieces), the old timey "Down the Way", and in Celtic vein, "The Last Call" (salvaged from Boys of the Lough days) and the "Tom McConville's Idea" set (who needs MBEs when you can be honoured in tune titles?). Someone like Mike Raven could tell you more about this method. I know he's a flatpicker and prefers the standard EADGBE tuning, but that's all. My guess is that, with his background as a successful session musician. Chris chooses to do orthodox things supremely well instead of aiming for a unique sound.

His fine mandolin playing (notably on "Off the Hook" and the "Tell Her Lies and Feed Her Candy" set), and his self-accompaniment on piano, bass and percussion, are further proofs of versatility. Chris and Maire have a liking for small venues in the Highlands. Next time I'm there, should they be within reach, I'll blithely cross snow-capped mountains and ford raging rivers to see them play. In the meantime, this excellent album will do.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 29 of The Living Tradition magazine.