In the three years since they came together as a duo, young folkies Russell and Algar haven’t done too badly. Their 2012 debut, .The Queen’s Lover’, earned massive critical acclaim, last year they won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award and then went on to pick up the Horizon Award at this year’s awards. All this while still taking A Levels (Ciaran in Stoke-on-Trent) and a Politics degree (Greg in Exeter). In between, they also found time to undertake extensive touring and record this, their sophomore release.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve not messed with a successful formula, the material a mix of self-penned, traditional and covers, songs and instrumentals, but it does evince a deepening of their craft, Algar taking care of fiddle, banjo and bodhran with Russell on increasingly sturdy lead vocals and concertina, and the pair sharing duties on guitar and bouzouki. Although essentially a two man affair that captures the sound of their live performance, they are augmented by Dave Russell’s bass on the six minute style and tempo shifting ‘George’s’, an instrumental set that encompasses trad tunes ‘The Harp And The Shamrock’ and ‘Crooked Road To Dublin’, and Jeana Leslie providing piano (and arrangement) for the spare and equally lengthy traditional fishing industry ballad ‘The Rose In June’, with Elly Lucas and the Cumbrian Two Chaps Choir providing harmonies on assorted tracks.
They cast their own net wide, trawling material from Northern England (‘The Cockfight’, Russell’s rousing, fiddle-scraping heritage-acknowledging arrangement of ‘The Bonny Grey’), Ireland (‘Absent Friends’, a two part melancholic instrumental set by Holly Geraghty and Lunasa’s Kevin Crawford, respectively), Sweden, in the form of ‘Roses Three’, the tale of a young man sent on a foolish errand by the maid he’s wooing, translated and adapted by Vicky Swan and Jonny Dyer, and America with a fine cover of ‘Cold Missouri Waters’, the story of the Mann Gulch fire tragedy of 1949 and a song popularised by Richard Shindell.
Elsewhere, frisky upbeat instrumental set ‘The Silent Jigs’ combines tunes by Algar, Joanie Madden and Irish fiddler Ain McGeeney, ‘The Workhouse’ is a sombre number lifted from Mick Ryan’s folk opera The Pauper’s Path and featuring harmony from Lucas, ‘Royal Comrade’ with its concertina solo is a variant on ‘The Lakes of Coolfiin’ ballad about a young man’s drowning, learned from the singing of Jim Causley, and, one of the particular highlights, ‘The Call And Answer’ is an anthemic love song, penned by Phil Colclough and featuring Russell on wheezing concertina and a chorus part borrowed from DH Lawrence.
To these ears, the album’s standout track, Algar wrote the stirring ‘Away From The Pits’, a song that uses Stoke-on-Trent as a metaphor for a feckless female (“this city is a little like you”), while, built around just guitar and fiddle, the closing number, tender love song ballad ‘A Season In Your Arms’, is also credited to Algar, albeit this time Ciaran’s father, Chris, firm evidence that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the family tree.
On the album notes, they say these are songs and tunes they’ve enjoyed writing or hearing at folk clubs around the country. It’s a pleasure you’ll equally enjoy sharing.
Artists’ website: www.russellalgar.co.uk
‘Away From The Pits’ performed at The Ram Folk Club, Thames Ditton.
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