Cath and Phil are based in the north-east – Phil is from Newcastle upon Tyne – but you wouldn’t know it from their music. Their greatest influence comes via Cath who was a member of Cordelia’s Dad back in the 1990s and has absorbed their take on traditional music from America. It also explains the spelling of ax. The Ox And The Ax is their third album but their first in almost a decade.
The majority of their songs come from across the Atlantic although several are known in the UK, often under different titles. The first, ‘The Two Sisters’ is sufficiently well-known not to need description but this version comes from New England via the noted collector Helen Hartness Flanders and owes its roots to several more familiar versions. ‘Finest Flower’ is a variant of ‘The Unquiet Grave’ using a tune from the southern harmony tradition and from there on we are breaking new ground. ‘Rainbow’ is a variant of ‘Locks And Bolts’ very different from the British versions but ‘Rained A Mist’, a song new to me, comes from Arkansas and is a variant of ‘The Jew’s Garden’ which is usually called ‘Little Sir Hugh’ for obvious reasons. I’ll leave you figure out the others.
I’m not sure about the thinking behind supplying a new tune to Ernest Jones’ ‘Song Of The Lower Classes’ given that the familiar one has served so well for so long. It is rather downbeat – understandably – and Cath and Phil’s new setting gives it rather more backbone, more anger.
Cath and Phil build their sound around Phil’s guitar with a heavy emphasis on the bass line, Cath’s fiddle and banjo. There’s a little percussion and trumpet on ‘King Henry’ from Glenn Bruinewoud. I have to confess that I find it a little ponderous at times although the music matches the frequent mood of death and despair in the songs. This isn’t a record to set your feet tapping but if you enjoy the cross-cultural fusion of traditional music between England and its former colony you’ll really enjoy it.
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‘The Two Sisters’ – official video: