ANTOINE & OWENA – Hands, Hearts & Hangings (own label)

Hands, Hearts & HangingsWe receive a lot of unsolicited albums, often debuts from new artists. Some we may gloss over; others we play more than once. So it is with Hands, Hearts & Hangings, the first album from Wiltshire duo Antoine Architeuthis and Owena Archer. Both are experienced musicians and are beginning to make their mark, having supported Reg Meuross and Eliza and Martin Carthy. You don’t get to do that unless you’re pretty good.

Their repertoire mixes original and traditional material and perversely I prefer the former. Not that there is anything wrong with their traditional songs except that they are terribly well known and tend to be up-tempo crowd pleasers. That said, there are verses in their version of ‘My Son John’ that I haven’t heard before. If they delved into the old texts a little deeper they would have it nailed. But…they write the sort of songs that nobody writes anymore, conjuring up situations and stories the way Bob Pegg and Mandy Morton used to.

Take the first track, ‘The Peddler And The Witch’. We’re immediately in some unspecified past time and witnessing an encounter on the road that moves from commercial to threatening. Then there’s a twist – you might expect that – but there is a second twist to follow that. Brilliant. ‘The Ballad Of John Olden’ is a song of the Luddites but ‘The Palmer’s Kiss’ takes us back to the unspecified past time of that first song. Is it just about sex or is their something mystical involved? As ‘Summer Longing’ began I settled down for a sweet pastoral song but it turns out there is something odd and twisted about it. The final track, ‘Luna’, begins in a similar fashion but by the closing chant it, too, has changed.

Musically, Antoine and Owena don’t over-complicate things. He plays bouzouki and guitar and she plays violin and there is bodhran from Anf Abbott but if you hear them live this is pretty much what you’ll get and that’s good enough for me.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.antoineandowena.co.uk

‘The Ballad Of John Olden’ – live: