She from Glasgow, he from Gloucestershire and both now based in Newcastle, former finalists for the 2019 Young Folk Award, the duo now make their album debut, No More The Green Hills, bringing her mandolin, piano, tenor guitar, piano and his bouzouki, acoustic, and fiddle, the pair both playing harmonium, to a collection of traditional Scottish, English and Irish folk songs.
Recorded in the Highlands with Andy Bell on production duties and Ben Nicholls adding double bass on three tracks, it explores both man’s relationship with nature and themes of love and loss, opening, Nicholls on bass, with their sadness-streaked arrangement of ‘False True Love’, found in Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles’ English Folks Songs From The Appalachians Vol 2 and blending together different versions, their contrasting voices in counterpointed harmony and solo spotlights for mandolin and piano.
Staying in a melancholic vein, another oft covered number, their spare, dreamlike arrangement of ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ was inspired by a version by Irish street singer Margaret Barry, followed by an impassioned ‘Four Loom Weaver’, a 19th century broadside ballad about the Lancashire cotton famine popularised by Ewan MacColl in the first folk revival movement.
Doran takes lead vocals for ‘As I Roved Out’, a song relating the tale of a soldier who marries for money rather than love, with inevitable regrets, learnt from the singing of Perter Kennedy, the tempo picking up with Burns taking over lead on the mandolin-led traditional Ayrshire love song ‘The Corncrake’, repurposed here to address the importance of nature and the right to roam in the light of the trespassing laws.
It’s aptly followed by another song celebrating nature and another bird (the lark), sung by Burns in a broad Scottish brogue, ‘Up And Awa’’, more strictly ‘Up And Awa’ Wi’ the Laverock’, the words written by Andy Hunter, set to the third and fourth parts of the pipe tune ‘Jig O’Slurs’ and popularised by Lizzy Higgins as the title track of her 1975 Topic album.
A tribute to Dellie Norton from the Blue Ridge Mountains, who in the 60s sang traditional English and Scottish ballads brought across by the first settlers, ‘Early Early’ (or Early Early In The Spring), the familiar tale of a sailor returning home to find his true love’s married someone with money is given a suitably muted fingerpicked treatment by Doran.
There’s a brace of hunting songs included, the first, sung by Doran and originating in County Armagh, being ‘The Greenmore Hare’ (aka ‘The Hills of Greenmore’) from whence the album title comes, the poignant account of the dying hare’s last words, not that hunters seem to much care, the other being the mandolin-accompanied ‘The Black Fox’, an anti-hunting song penned by Graham Pratt and featuring on his and Eileen’s 1980 To Friend And Foe and inspired by a Yorkshire legend in which the fox transforms into the Devil to give the hunters a taste of their own medicine.
Sandwiched between, Burns takes lead on a suitably stripped back treatment of the Scottish temperance broadside ‘Johnny My Man’ (aka ‘Farewell to Whisky’), another from the singing of Lizzie Higgins, before the album ends, Burns again on lead, with ‘The Weary Cutters’, a press gang narrative with origins in their adopted North East, initially learnt from Sandra Kerr and reworked from the singing of Pat Elliott.
Their singing and arrangements an object lesson in how less is more, this is patently just the first step in what promises to be a highly illustrious recording career.
Artists’ website: www.janandjon.com
‘The Corncrake’ – official video: