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JENNY CROOK & HENRY SEARS "Chasing the Dawn" Own Label TARJH 003

I've been a fan of Jenny Crook's eclectic harp since she was a Young Tradition Award finalist in 1993. Her two albums with Cythara both merit a listen. Henry Sears played with Afterhours, another band worth hearing: his performances here on fiddle and whistle are very impressive. The combination of Jen and Hen is captivating, and deserves to be much better known.

So what do they do? Well it's half traditional and half original, but most of their own material is close to traditional idioms, and most of their traditional material is noticeably jazzed up. Henry's fiddle strikes sparks from Irish reels such as The Dawn and Tripping Down the Stairs, and his slightly breathy Chieftain low whistle weaves that Celtic magic on some lovely slower pieces. Jenny's harp is rock solid as an accompaniment, and angelic on the melody line. Her singing voice is perfectly suited to traditional material: eat your heart out, Bill Jones!

The original material includes the catchy slip-jig Joyride, the intriguingly titled reel Jenny Getting Pickled, and two songs which expand the frontiers of the English ballad. The Footpath to Farleigh is a real tear-jerker, taking the Dark-Eyed Sailor story and adding extra pathos: our hero and heroine have been apart for nine years, he was wounded but struggled back to her, and so forth. Under the Moon is a new twist on several stories: young girl is seduced, but revels in it, throwing her clothing to the four winds, and then she refuses the offer of marriage. Both songs are well written and beautifully performed, but you begin to wonder what Ms Crook gets up to in her spare time.

This is a true duo album, with no guests but lots of multi-tracking. Four hands and two mouths produce a surprisingly full sound, comparable to Anam at their best. The musicianship is exemplary, and almost every track is a winner. The sleeve notes are rather brief, and there's not much more information on the website (www.jenandhen.co.uk), but the music speaks for itself. I'm looking forward to seeing the live act.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 50 of The Living Tradition magazine.