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PENK, CURLEY & SONGER A Portland Selection port001

I undertake this review out of enthusiasm rather than duty. When I was sent the excellent contradance tune book The Portland Collection for review in another magazine, I became so entranced by the CD that arrived with it, that I resolved to review it in its own right for LT. It's a defiantly home-produced release, with no named label or catalogue number, and the three musicians - from Portland, Oregon - are so unassuming they don't even have a band name. What they have produced, though, is as good an example of unpretentious, beautifully -played dance music as you could ever wish to hear.

Leading the line is George Penk, a terrific fiddler with precision, great rhythmic attack, and enviable sweetness in the upper register, standing comparison with far more celebrated players. Contradance musicians are notoriously eclectic, and the selection contains tunes from New England, Quebec, the Appalachians, Ireland and Scotland, together with recent compositions, but rather than approach them with some homogenised, catch-all technique, Penk handles each in its appropriate style, executing lovely triplets and rolls for the Irish pieces and driving ahead of the beat for the old-timey material. The support is no less accomplished: Clyde Curley, on mandolin, mandola and tenor banjo, supplies a subtle mixture of chording, unison melody and delicate harmony lines, while Sue Songer's piano invests the rhythm with irresistible lift, resisting the excessive syncopation that's all too common these days. As an ensemble the three are very, very tight.

The tunes themselves are great, too. Marcel Messervier's Hommage Edmond Parizeau is as joyous an opening track as I've heard in years, Damon's Winder and Two Wide Nickels are fine old-timey fiddle workouts, Shetland's Millbrae is kicked along by banjo and particularly crunchy fiddle, while Father Kelly's Reel is slowed down to produce a fine air. Dammit, they even make The Mason's Apron sound fresh and exciting. This CD has hardly been out of my player these past few months!. Contra is beginning to catch on in England these days, and some musicians here are already trying out tunes from the Portland Collection (which Songer and Curley produced). If you want an outstanding role model for playing this, or indeed any other, kind of dance music, go to www.theportlandcollection.com and they'll tell you how to order a copy. Trust me on this one!

Brian Peters

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This album was reviewed in Issue 48 of The Living Tradition magazine.