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GARVA "Sweet Liberty" RED 008

Garva are a Liverpool-based group with a strong Irish influence, who deserve to be better known. This is their first commercial recording, and with almost an hour of music it gives a very good idea of the band's character. The five members of Garva are all established musicians, but the emphasis is definately on the singing rather than the instrumental tradition: three of the five take the lead in the eight songs on the album.

The repertoire here ranges from old Irish lullabys to Ewan MacColl's work, and spans the Irish, Scottish and English traditions. Songs like "My Old Man" (the North-West version ) and "Down Our Street" are reminiscent of the Houghton Weavers and the like, whereas "The Prayer of Shields" and "Famine" evoke the McCalmans. In between are some very moving contemporary songs. What all these have in common is a depth of harmony singing and sensitive accompaniment which produces a powerful and distinctive sound.

The instrumental side of this recording marries well with the character of the songs. Of the seven instrumentals, two are beautiful slow airs on the uillean pipes of John Murphy. Two jig sets and a solitary set of reels complete the Irish tunes, and there's a French-Canadian waltz and a set of central French bransles for good measure. The pipes are joined by the accordion of Kevin Webster, an unusual combination of instruments which comes up trumps here in both instrumentals and songs. Add flute and stringed things, and Garva produce a good tight ceili sound. The pace is right, the tunes are interesting without being obscure, and the sound is irresistible.

An as hour of traditional entertainment, this album takes some beating. There are a few rough edges, but there's nothing wrong with that. The only real problem is that copies of "Sweet Liberty" are not very readily available!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 13 of The Living Tradition magazine.