And so we come to the end of my reviews of the four CDs that comprise a seasonal set by the American duo Hanz Araki and Kathryn Claire. The Emigrant’s Song/The Laborer’s Lament has a theme that is less obviously tied to the summer, whereas the others have a clear link to the seasons they represent. Its theme is more emphatically centred on the themes of exile and emigration, especially in the context of finding work: however, it seems that summer was the time that the Irish were most likely to leave their homeland in search of employment. There’s also a noticeable maritime thread running through several of the tracks, including instrumentals.
The album also differs from the others in that although the sleeve on the review copy states that “All Tracks Trad’ arr. Hanz Araki and Kathryn Claire”, a few of these songs and tunes are unequivocally contemporary. On this occasion, Hanz (flute, whistle, bodhran and vocals) and Kathryn (fiddle, guitar and vocals) are joined by Joe Trump (percussion), Cary Novotny (guitar), Christopher Hayes (acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki) and Cal Scott (guitar, vocal).
- The opening set of jigs includes ‘The Exile’s Jig / The Scotsman Over the Border / Willie’s Trip to Toronto’, the last tune being written by the Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland (1955-2009). A good choice of tunes, very well played, which comes as no surprise at all.
- ‘Johnny Miner’ (better known as ‘Farewell Johnny Miner’) is a song by Ron Pickford recorded by the Battlefield Band, among many others. Characteristically precise vocal and instrumental harmonies give light and shade to a bitter song about the death of an industry. The lyric here isn’t altogether as originally written, but that’s the folk process, I guess.
- ‘Craigie Hill(s)’ is a moving song about emigration from Ireland. Kathryn takes the lead vocal here, and chooses a delivery with less vocal ornamentation than many Irish and Scots singers. That’s a matter of taste, but the more straightforward approach does work very well with Hanz’s harmonies. Restrained lead guitar here from Christopher Hayes.
- ‘Leaving Glasgow’ (a.k.a. ‘N Am Bhi Fagail Ghlaschu’) is treated here by a multi-tracked Hanz as a slow air. And very effective it is too.
- ‘Four Loom Weaver’ has more of a percussive folk-rock feel compared to the intensity of the Silly Sisters’ unaccompanied version, but makes it a good fit with ‘Scully Casey’s Jig’, on which the track plays out. Hanz and Kathryn’s vocals vary between a ‘call and response’ alternating lines between the singers, and harmonies on the chorus. I wasn’t sure at first, but it’s definitely growing on me.
- Next comes a set of reels: ‘The New Rigged Ship’ / ‘Fair Wind’ / ‘The Holy Land’. I particularly like the brief instrumental harmony that precedes the last tune.
- ‘My Johnny Was A Shoemaker’ seems much influenced by the a cappella version sung by Gay Woods and Maddy Prior on the first Steeleye Span album, though with the addition of some percussion. It’s an attractive tune and fits with the overall theme, and the harmonies are, as ever, spot on, but I’d have preferred it if they’d moved further away from the Steeleye version.
- The combination of gentle acoustic and electric guitars on ‘Isle Of France’ gives it a contemporary feel.
- ‘The Steampacket’ / ‘The Floating Crowbar’ / ‘The Sailor on the Rock’ is another fine set of tunes, though the prominence of the percussion might not be to everyone’s taste.
- ‘Grey Funnel Line’ is one of Cyril Tawney’s songs about life in the Royal Navy. It’s always been a favourite of mine – less histrionic and easier to identify with than ‘Sally Free And Easy’, even for non-sailors – with its echoes of traditional lyrics that make it almost a contemporary forebitter. The simple but beautifully judged harmonies here do it full justice, though they miss out a couple of verses, including the one Cyril himself forgot until Lou Killen reminded him of it years later.
- The percussion seems to work better on ‘Covering Ground’ / ‘The Rolling Waves’, perhaps because the first jig is a modern tune by Diarmaid Moynihan, seguing comfortably into the major for ‘The Rolling Waves’.
- There’s a well-known unaccompanied version of ‘New Holland Grove’ by Niamh Parsons. Perhaps sensibly, Kathryn opts for a more percussive arrangement rather than compete directly with Niamh’s stunning version, and acquits herself creditably, aided by Hanz’s harmonies and instrumental work.
- ‘The City Of Savannah’ / ‘The Japanese Hornpipe’ combines two hornpipes that fit very well together.
- The final track is ‘Farewell To Fiunary’ (or Fuinary, another song of emigration, probably harking back to the Highland Clearances. Hanz and Kathryn are content to let the song speak for itself, with a simple arrangement and their trademark harmonies.
Compared to the other CDs in this series, some of the music here is (unobtrusively) more experimental, most notably in the occasional use of multi-tracking, electric guitar and prominent percussion, though it’s a long way south of Steeleye Span at their heaviest. For me, the most successful tracks are the ones that make the most use of their instrumental and vocal harmonies, but that’s a matter of personal taste, I suppose. Nevertheless, if they have any plans to work together again – these CDs seem to have been around longer than I realised at the start of these reviews – it would be interesting to hear what other directions they might go in.
‘Johnny Miner’ – live: