Put together one of the English folk scene’s most lyrical singers, let them mature together for a decade or two, and their stunning new album Unearthing is the much anticipated result.
James Patterson (Crows, Silas) and John Dipper (fiddler on the Hobbit and TV Series Poldark) have deep roots in the folk revival and their sound is anchored in that tradition but it is in no way restricted by it. Their choice of material has roots in traditional song and the English classical song repertoires, including settings by Finzi, Somervell and Butterworth, that greatly influence the duo’s approach.
Independent of the source, thoughtfulness and a deep seated musicality is brought to each arrangement. It is then presented with Patterson’s fabulously smooth baritone Bloating gracefully, giving the words and narrative the space that they truly deserve, over the accompaniment of guitar and Dipper’s sublime viola d’amore.
Dipper’s use of the 14 stringed viola d’amore is indicative of the way in which he pushes the boundaries of the tradition, respecting the beauty and depth of the heirlooms that we have inherited, while breaking convention. His viola d’amore is tuned in a specific way, echoing the tuning systems used by the Moraharper – an early version of the Nyckelharp, which enables him to play harmonies and chords simply not possible on a standard instrument. His playing is exquisite and his approach both to tunes and accompaniment absolutely unique.
James’ voice was at the forefront of the band Crows, with Mick Ryan, Ralph Jordan and John Burge. His approach to the lyrics and his ability to phrase and judge each line, to deliver the narrative in an entrancing and mesmerising style, never obscuring the timeless sentiment, is legendary.
Combined, these musicians react to each other’s performance in the most effortless, yet spontaneous and dynamic way possible. Their music truly is precision with a soul. Largely recorded in the final week before the first coronavirus lockdown, the album has been a long time in completion but has finally broken the surface.
While the duo’s music is exquisite, there are also wonderful musical contributions from superb multi-instrumentalist Adrian Lever (Alma and Arhai) and the beautiful cello playing of Emily Askew (the Askew Sisters, Alma and The Emily Askew Band).
In making this album Patterson Dipper have performed an almost impossible task – with the lightest and most delicate touch, they have brought music and song that had been explored by exponents of western art music, full circle – bringing it back to the tradition from which it was discovered over a century ago. This was always going to be a very delicate operation, it being all too easy to lose the beauty that classical music has brought out of this music. Patterson Dipper have skillfully managed to reclaim this music yet in bringing it back to the folk idiom, they have preserved and celebrated the facets of beauty classical music magnified, but that are all too often lost.
Artists’ website: www.pattersondipper.co.uk