Claire Mann and Aaron Jones are both English by birth, Mann from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Jones from Poole on the south coast. Both have been playing for many years with various groups and musicians, and have gained a reputation for their musicianship. Mann plays flute and fiddle, Jones guitar and bouzouki, and both sing, though Jones takes all the lead vocals here, with Mann providing harmonies. For being English, their music is very Irish in its approach, even though many of the tunes and most of the songs are written elsewhere.
Of the 11 tracks, four are songs. As with many records of this type, the songs show the softer, more emotive side of the performers. “Saints and Sinners” by David Francey is a little bluesy, with lovely harmonies and a harmonica in the background, making me think of songs from the early Patrick Street records. “Across the Western Ocean” is a seafaring song, also covered on John Tams’s new album. The basic feeling is the same as on the aforementioned track, but with bouzouki instead of guitar making it softer.
“When Fortune Turns Her Wheel” is another traditional song, this time a soft ballad from the border between England and Scotland. Just Jones’s voice and guitar with Mann on flute. Soft and moving, it’s the best song on the album in my mind. “Slip Jigs and Reels” by Steve Tilston brings back the full backing band. A nice version, quite different from Fairport Convention’s treatment of the same song, which makes sense since Mann and Jones cites the group Fine Friday as their source for the song.
The instrumental sets are picked from very varying sources, which reflects in the variety of music performed. You get the compulsory fast reels complete with bodhran rhythms in “McElvogue’s,” jigs in “The Smiling Bride” and “Bottle of Whisky,” and so on. It is on these tracks the Irish influences show the most.
But there are also some unexpected twists and turns. “Valsen” (Swedish for “the waltz”) starts with a waltz from Brittany composed by Jacky Molard, and turns into a Swedish tune by Ola Bäckström, mostly known internationally for his work with Swåp. And the closing “Lament for the Kerry Fisherman” by Cathal McConell is performed solo by Mann on a B-flat flute, a brave move that works very well.
Throughout, the musicianship and singing are impeccable, and Mann and Jones have a gift for picking good songs and tunes. A quite remarkable debut album by any standard.
(Trad music, 2005)