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MICK RYAN & PETE HARRIS - "Hard Season" - Wildgoose WGS295CD

Mick Ryan has the kind of voice that many a club singer would willingly kill for; he uses it with apparently effortless grace won from a lifetime at the heart of the English traditional scene. Pete Harris' multi-instrumental accompaniments similarly seem to embody the best of revival style as developed over the past three decades (Pete has a second life as a blues player, but you wouldn't know that from listening to this album). In other words, there are no ground-breaking, ball-breaking surprises here; no rock/punk/worldwide, crossover-roots new departures - so if that's your preference, skip now to the next review.

Here are nine traditional songs, mostly well-known favourites such as "Spencer the Rover" and "The Plains of Waterloo", mixed with six of Mick's own songs, many of these written for his "folk-musical" about emigration, "The Voyage". Now, Mick is an accomplished wordsmith; I particularly admire "Long Hard Season", from which the album takes its title. The complex triple-rhyme scheme echoes the Irish theme of the storyline - but here my admiration becomes mixed, since the tune and harmonies in which Mick and Pete sing the song are Appalachian in style and hide rather than compliment the mood of the song, to my mind. I'd like to hear it done another way, I think. I'm not much of a fan of insistant, sing-along choruses either, and Mick's songs are strong on these - but here I know I'm out of step with the majority on the folkclub scene and this is the very feature likely to take these songs into the repertoire of many singers, where they well deserve to be. When storylines are as well written as these, though, I hate having them so frequently interrupted; it's interesting that not one of the traditional songs Mick has chosen to sing here has a chorus - why does he feel them so necessary to his own writing?

One other warning to purists: when it says "Trad. arranged ..." on this album, that means the words, not just the tune. No, Mick hasn't found a new version of "Spencer"; he's polished up the Copper Family song a little bit - singer's privilege, say I. For myself, I shall continue to sing the old words, but I will listen with interest to see how long it takes Mick's little alterations to several songs here to turn up in Singarounds!

Corinne Male

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This album was reviewed in Issue 35 of The Living Tradition magazine.