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DOUG SMITH "Diving for Pearls" Sabre Records SRO1/2
SALLY BARKER "Passion and the Countess" Rideout Records RDEPR098

Neither of these artistes are household names (in this household anyway) but judging by this recorded evidence, both have abundant talent which they are eager to showcase.

"Passion and the Countess" is a live recording of a four-piece band comprising of herself on guitar and lead vocals, Keith Richard Buck on lead and pedal steel guitars, the faultless Sarah Allen on flute and accordion and Dorothy Barker on percussion and backing vocals. Sally writes or co-writes most of the material with Genesis, Andy Partridge and Pete Morton covers bringing the total to fourteen. And to validate its inclusion in this magazine there is a blistering "Female Rambling Sailor", though I must say that she seems more influenced by Bob Marley than Bob Copper. There is much here to offend the hard-line traditional bigot - they attack the faster numbers with outright glee while the slower songs are delivered with an intensity that Mary-Chapin Carpenter would be pushed to equal. It goes straight into the top drawer of modern acoustic music-making, and its liveness gives it added edge. I hadn't heard her till now (my ignorance is legendary) but we will all certainly be hearing more of her.

Much less in-yer-face, but no less confident or competent is "Diving for Pearls", an album of defiantly solo acoustic guitar player (with occasional vocals and banjo) by Doug Smith of Twickenham. The sleeve credits his guitar maker, the Anchor folk club at Byfleet, various friends and relatives and - this has to be a first - his manicurist! Probably with justification - the speed and quantity of notes his playing generates would cause less pampered nails to melt away. Speaking as a man who already has far too many guitar heroes (Carr, Carthy, Simpson, Taylor, Thompson, Tilston, Tyrrall and so on) I was pulled up short by not only Smith's technique but by his sensitive interpretation as he picks and strums through an eclectic variety of numbers from both sides of the Atlantic and the tradition. His liner notes provide a memorable quote - "In an age that seems to want to pigeon-hole everything, music still continues to elude the handcuffs, and nowhere more so than in 'folk' music ..." I wish I'd said that - from now on I will!

In days like these, where the highest sales seem to be clocked up by the lowest musical denominators, it is immensely reassuring that such breath-catching musical ability as displayed here by Barker and friends and Smith can still emerge to shed inspirational light into the life of the darkest critic. There two records have me feeling better already.

Alan Rose

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This album was reviewed in Issue 29 of The Living Tradition magazine.