GreenMatthews, who have appeared in these pages before, are Chris Green who plays keyboards and a variety of stringed instruments, and Sophie Matthews who plays all manner of aerophones from English border bagpipes to baroque oboe. Both sing but it’s Sophie’s instrumentation that provide Roots & Branches’ distinctive sound, particularly when tackling a couple of Playford tunes like ‘Childegrove’ and ‘The Indian Queen’. If you associate Playford with the shilling-in-the-bum dancing style this will change your mind.
The majority of the material is traditional, or nearly so, but Chris and Sophie have worked hard to give such songs as ‘High Germany’ and ‘The Blue Cockade’ a new feel without altering them too much. I applaud them for what they have done with these songs and ‘Daddy Fox’ which they have borrowed from Barry Dransfield. The opening track, ‘The Escape Of Old John Webb’, is a variant of the ‘Billy Broke Locks’ story that comes from Massachusetts and was once recorded by The Kingston Trio. John Webb was a coin-maker who wasn’t averse to knocking out a few extra in support of American independence; needless to say that got him into trouble and it sets the album up well.
Now, I begin to have problems. Chris has written a new tune for ‘The Bone Lace Weaver’ and I can’t imagine why. The usual tune, composed in the 1960s though it may be, is perfectly suited to the song and would suit GreenMatthews’ instrumental style equally well. Later he essays a new tune for Ernest Jones’ ‘Song Of The Lower Classes’ – the customary tune is a 19th century hymn paired with the lyrics by Martin Carthy and it’s difficult to improve on. Fortunately, Chris doesn’t try to improve on Vaughan-Williams’ tune for ‘Linden Lea’ (someone else has and I detest it) and I like his arrangement very much although it’s taken a little too fast for my taste.
Oh, dear. It seems that I’ve got a down on GreenMatthews but actually Roots & Branches is a very enjoyable record – although I reserve the right to be critical. I’m old enough and curmudgeonly enough to do so but I admire their approach to the music contained herein.
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‘The Blue Cockade’ – live: