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CHRIS WOOD & ANDY CUTTING "Lusignac" Ruf Records RUFCD 04

Here is an English duo who are well known for playing non-English tunes but singing the occasional English song. This album, their fourth, continues the tradition but takes it in a slightly different direction. The English songs are there, three of them, but they aren't surrounded by the French-Canadian reels and jigs of previous albums. Wood and Cutting have gone Gallic (not Gaelic), basing most of the tunes here on the European French tradition of melodeon, hurdy-gurdy and bagpipes. Whether this has anything to do with Andy Cutting's involvement with Blowzabella, I really can't say but I have my suspicions.

Of the ten tracks on "Lusignac" (50 minutes overall), around half have a distinct French feel. We're not talking about Parisian or Musette music here, but of bourrees and branles and gavottes from Central and Southern France. This is powerful, earthy dance music given plenty of lift. It is also unusual in that much of it is it triple time and sounds rather less flashy than the galloping reels of the Celtic or North American traditions.

The three songs include the lovely "Hares on the Mountain" by Chris Wood, and a great tune after it. This is a clever, concise and poignant song reflecting an aspect of the English tradition which deserves to be better known. The other two songs, one trad and one not, didn't do much for me: they're both given rather dirge-like treatments, with chords held on the box and very little life in the melody. The words aren't very exciting either.

Very few of the tracks on this recording are truly traditional. The arrangements are sparse, with the fiddle and box spelled by guitar from time to time, and the general impression is that these are old tunes, but in fact most are modern compositions. As well as their own writing, Wood & Cutting play tunes by hurdy-gurdy virtuosi Giles Chabenat and Nigel Eaton, inspirational French box-player Jean Blanchard and others. Something could have been made of this in the notes, which unfortunately are brief to the point of non-existent.

In conclusion, Wood and Cutting have pulled off a French album with considerable success. I wonder what they'll turn their hands to next. This recording may surprise British audiences, with its continental feel and the lack of variation in tempo and rhythm: French music is perhaps an acquired taste, but it's made much more accessible by the very sympathetic treatment on this album.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 17 of The Living Tradition magazine.