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MAGGIE HOLLAND "By Heart" Rhiannon RHYD5008

This new CD from Maggie Holland came as an unexpected pleasure. Well, it was the arrival that was unexpected. The pleasure to be found inside was not such a surprise. Maggie has taken a very simple formula - a collection of contemporary songs performed by her alone - and carried it off with complete success. Just like cooking really, where the simplest recipe and the freshest ingredients can, in the right hands, result in the most satisfying dish.

The songs have been chosen with great care from the last decade, or perhaps a little longer. They have not gained widespread appreciation, but Maggie is able to reveal an insight or strength in every one, and each song deserves wider attention. If there is a theme running through the songs, it is one of loss, whether of home, love or life itself. But the album never becomes morose; there is a strong pulse of vitality beating all the way through.

Two songs come from Maggie's association with Robb Johnson, "Cathy Come Home" and Robb's elegy for a serene and imaginary England, "Evergreen". Where Robb presents pictures in stark black and white, Maggie lends a little more shading and tenderness to the views. "Tank Park Salute" from Billy Bragg is also outstanding. Maggie includes three of her own compositions, and they all sit at ease here, even amongst such notable company. But the song that made me reach for the repeat button was Smokey's Bar, from the repertoire of Nic Jones, where a dramatic moment is caught vividly and unforgettably.

Maggie does not push herself to the fore. There is a lot of personality but little ego. Her voice is supported by guitar in a variety of styles plus occasional banjo. When you are so comfortable with your material, nothing more is needed.

Henry Peacock

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This album was reviewed in Issue 14 of The Living Tradition magazine.