CD review - by Barry Jones: New album is a 'festive grab bag of classics' from northern folk duo

Reporter:

Barry Jones

NORTHERN folk duo O’Hooley and Tidow return to play at Y Tabernacl, Machynlleth, this Saturday night, December 9, as part of their WinterFolk tour built around the release of this new album.

The Powys venue has special significance to Belinda and Heidi as it is where they found the Steinway grand piano they use when they play there and have used in recordings for their previous and current albums including being in original compositions and arrangements done in situ at the Tabernacl.

The new album is a festive grab bag of classics, reworkings and brand new songs and arrangements loaded with more emotion than the usual Christmas album with the help of Jo Silverston on cello, Anna Jenkins on violin and viola, and Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott on flugelhorn, euphonium and backing vocals.

It opens with Steve Ashley’s “Fire and Wine” which nicely sets the scene for winter evoking firesides and mulled wine as Jack Frost is sung away.

A new version of the duo’s 2012 song “The Last Polar Bear” follows as a gentle love song with lots of cello.

Another reworked song is 2010's “One More Xmas” but it is a darker side of domestic violence. Jude Abbott’s heartbreaking flugelhorn solo is a major feature of the new version already being acclaimed as the best new seasonal song since “Fairytale of New York”.

The duo then sing a ccapella with a hopeful sound despite gloomy times on their new modern carol “Winter Folk Carol”, before going back to the 16th century for the traditional “Coventry Carol” reinterpreted in one take by Belinda on the Tabernacl Steinway.

Another reworked 2012 song “Calling Me” becomes a moving big production number with a strange and ethereal atmosphere.

“Whitethorn” is another dark yuletide song, this time worked from their 2007 song originally written for Rachel Unthank and The Winterset and based on the true story of Belinda’s Irish great grandmother whose stillborn babies were not allowed a Catholic burial and were buried beneath the whitethorn at the bottom of the field.

A spinetingling rendition of “Stille Nacht” in its original German is followed by a refreshingly jolly version of Richard Thompson’s “We Sing Hallelujah” with additional vocal help from Jude; and John Renbourn’s “Wexford Lullaby” based on the 12th century Wexford Carol and sung a cappella solo and duet.

It all builds up to the showstopping “Fairytale of New York”, the Pogues modern classic stripped down and slowed in a bold interpretation dripping with feeling.

The recording red light was on as Heidi warmed up her voice by humming the beautiful refrain of Silent Night”. Belinda’s fingers found the piano keys for the reprise which brings this excellent album to a close.

And the good news is that it is subtitled Volume 1, so there should be more to look forward to next winter!

Tickets for Saturday’s Machynlleth concert cost £12 or £10 for concessions and can be booked with the venue on 01654 703355.

Email:

barry.jones@nwn.co.uk

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