ALEX CUMMING – Homecoming (own label)

HomecomingA traditional singer, accordionist, pianist and dance caller from Somerset now based in Vermont, while he’s recorded as part of Celtic trio Bellwether, a cappella quartet The Teacups and as a duo with Nicola Beazley, Homecoming is his solo debut, albeit with a helping hand from such musicians as fiddler Audrey Jaber, Pete Ord on bass, electric and drums, Kathleen Ord on orchestral strings and Max Newman providing acoustic and mandolin. Save for four originals, it’s predominantly traditional material, kicking off with a steady but rousing six-minute arrangement of Anglo-American traditional shanty ‘Boston Harbour’ that flows into the Thomas Bartlett’s Brooklyn slow jam instrumental ‘Thomas Shrugs March’.

Sir Walter Scott by way of Nic Jones, ‘The Singer’s Request’ has him on piano and piano accordion with harmonies from a raft of backing singers, among them his fellow Teacups Rosie Calvert and Will Finn.

The first of the self-penned numbers is the six-minute title track, a brace of instrumentals (the lilting first part and the bouncier second being ‘Along The Redwood Road In A Red Chevy Convertible’, which sums where it was composed), followed by an a cappella reading of ‘Polly Vaughan’, learnt back when he was studying for his Folk and Traditional Music Degree.

‘Green And Pleasant Land’ is, of course, actually Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, retitled after Cumming was commissioned to rework the melody and create a new arrangement as opposed to the anthemic William Parry setting. The piece was originally arranged for full chorus, folk band and brass ensemble, but he version here is the slower, pared down version, with piano and strings, the tune based on a version of ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’, a Morris fiddle tune by revivalist Mary Neal.

The second original is another brace of instrumentals, Cumming, Jaber and Newman having a fine time on ‘Harbour Steel/Francis Frenzy’, two jigs originally arranged for a rapper dance as part of the 2021 Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Harvard Square, Cambridge Massachusetts, the first titled after his Boston rapper team and the second tune a commission from dance caller Beverley Francis.

The remainder of the album comprises (bar one instrumental) all traditional numbers, the accordion wheezing ‘Lord Beichan’ is basically an Appalachian version of ‘Lord Bateman’, followed by an unaccompanied rendition of ‘Bold Nelson’ with Finn and Calvert before he folk rocks it up somewhat with. This trio of voices lock together in a stunning show of harmony and showcases the decade of singing these three have shared together. We then get a real sense of Cumming’s love of folk rock with ‘Watchet Sailor’, accordion and fiddle giving way to Ord’s electric guitar riffs and punchy percussion, the track rounded off with Cumming’s own reel ‘On A Winter’s Morn’. It ends, then, in fine fettle with a piano-accompanied, wistful Celtic-shaded performance of the uplifting, inspirational ‘How Can I Keep From Singing?’ with Kathleen Ord’s strings accentuating the emotional dynamic of how music can get you through the darkest of times.

The likelihood of catching him live outside of the United States is pretty remote (though there is a streamed Live To Your Living Room on March 18 8pm UK time with Jaber on fiddle), but this fine album makes for a very acceptable substitute.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Boston Harbour’ – live with Audrey Jaber: