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TONY HALL "Mr Universe" Osmosys OSMOCD003

Tony Hall is the master of playing distinctive, quintessentially English style two-row melodeon, and has been heard on Maddy Prior and June Tabor's "Silly Sisters" album, Nic Jones' superb "Penguin Eggs", and was also captured (albeit nearly twenty years ago!) on his solo album "Fieldvole Music" on the Free Reed label. More recently he has appeared on the definitive Plant Life recording "English Melodeon Players", and now, to delight squeezebox players everywhere, he has a second, long-awaited, album, and it is pure delight! Although there is guitar from Marya Parker, fiddle by Pete Wilks, and tasty percussion courtesy of Alan Austin, it is nonetheless very much a solo recording.

The tunes and songs "were learned either from films, old records, or someone called Pete" - according to the sleeve notes, and the album was appropriately recorded on the Osmosys label. Me? I just wish I knew Pete, 'cos it's all really good stuff! Ten tunes, three songs, and a total playing time of just over fifty minutes. The tunes range from an "Elizabethan Medley", via dance music from "Local Hero" ("what I heard is not necessarily what was played"), to "Humphrey Littleton" - collected from an EP (remember them?) made back in the sixties. Besides that there is a fair smattering of American tunes (including Jay Ungar's "Round the Horn"), a "Slow Air" from Scotland, a smashing "Slow Hornpipe" - from Pete, and "Stitches in the Britches" which is a set of two slides learned from Kerry fiddler Julia Clifford. The title track is "loosely based" on an American movie's theme tune - heard only once - but it typifies all that is best about Tony Hall's playing. Strongly rhythmic bass lines which underpin the essentially simple tune, which is then worked and re-worked, developing the possibilities and ranging freely around the buttons, pulling out chordal progressions and combinations which show Tony's deep understanding of the two-row box, and defy the limitations that other players seem to find with it.

The songs are not actually from friends called Pete. "Lovely Joan" is from a friend called Ralph (Vaughan Williams), "Jack Tar" from Johnny Moynihan, and "The Blacksmith" from the singing of Phoebe Smith. All are delivered in Tony's inimitable singing style, and all give the opportunity to let the melodeon in on the act.

"Mr Universe" is essential listening for everyone with an interest in English music; a classic album from a man of rare talent.

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 18 of The Living Tradition magazine.