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JANE & AMANDA THRELFALL "Gown of Green" WBCD 002

Sisters Jane and Amanda communicate so very well their love of and respect for the English folk tradition in which they are steeped; their first joint release, Morning Tempest, was deservedly well received, so why depart from a winning formula? Indeed, at first glance, Gown Of Green has many elements in common - fine Ollie Knight production, attractive and distinctive cover design, interesting and informative booklet notes (take another bow, Mr. Caffrey!). And of course the music - exclusively traditional material, in readings of intelligence and integrity, straight-down-the-line, no flavour-of-the-month gimmicks. But there's a marked difference in this new release.

The sisters' considerable vocal and instrumental skills are again augmented here by their touring partners Martin Ellison (melodeons) and Roger Edwards (guitar, anglo concertinas), but the tentative, even slightly polite feel that occasionally came through in Morning Tempest has been scattered to the winds, the foursome having been honed through extensive live gigging into a real performing band with an unerring sense of ensemble. That characteristic spring-in-the-step is still there in abundance, and the sisters' wonderful arrangements of well-loved songs like the "quintessentially English" Searching For Lambs, The Blacksmith (using the tune collected by Vaughan Williams and famous from Shirley Collins' recording), April Morn (indelibly associated with the late Tony Rose) and Shepherd Of The Downs (from the singing of the Copper Family) prove most refreshing, as do those of less-often-heard material like the uncannily infectious Horncastle Fair and the title track, and the (new-to-me) Devonshire variant of Cold And Haily Night.

The excellent recording allows for full appreciation of the sisters' vibrant sibling harmonies, which admirably complement their solid unison work, and brings out every nuance of the well-considered instrumental accompaniment. My only criticism is that the album could have done with being a bit longer - I'd have liked to hear more of their unaccompanied repertoire (Cupid's Garden being a standout cut), and this time round there are only two instrumental tracks (Morning Tempest had four!); but what there is here is absolutely top-class, make no mistake, and an essential acquisition both for the existing connoisseur of traditional song and for those newly converted to its delights.

David Kidman

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