ATLANTIC UNION – Indulgence (Blue Island Records CD 20191)

IndulgenceWhen I reviewed the last CD from Atlantic Union here, I noted that “I’m looking forward to hearing where they take us next.” Their new CD Indulgence was indeed worth waiting for, and while it includes a few familiar songs, the band goes further into exploring its own music with nine original tracks. The band are Sally Goddard (vocals, guitar, bodhrán/percussion); Dan Rubin (vocals, violin, viola, bouzouki, guitar, mando-uke, string bass, octave mandolin, bass guitar, mandolin); Jane Ogilvie (Celtic harp. accordion, piano, vocals, tongue drum). And here’s the track listing. ​

  1. ‘Forest Flower’ features some rather pretty guitar introducing a pleasant song by Dan Rubin.
  2. The well-known ‘Star Of The County Down’ is credited as ‘traditional’ here, though the words are usually credited to Cathal McGarvey . It features the distinctive vocals of Sally Goddard and Jane Ogilvie’s harp, as well as Dan Rubin’s tastefully arranged strings. While this description may make it sound a little orchestral, it’s actually very appropriate, with Sally’s vocals containing just enough ornamentation to remind us that she’s an unusually gifted folkie, not an opera singer slumming. J
  3. Jane Ogilvie’s ‘You Can Do This’ has a slightly Palm Court feel with its piano and violin, yet ruthlessly dissects some of the comforting clichés we offer our friends at times of stress. Actually, I really like it, and Sally shows that she’s just as comfortable with a very different style of singing.
  4. ‘Where Does Mother Go?’ is another of Jane’s songs, and it’s stunning. It will certainly ring whole peals of bells for anyone who’s experienced some form of dementia at close quarters. The melody and arrangement are a perfect match for the lyric. Sally eschews undue histrionics and lets the lyric speak for itself. Outstanding.
  5. Thematically, Sally’s ‘Gabriella Joyce’ invites comparison with Carol Hall’s ‘Jenny Rebecca’. I tend to associate the latter with the singing of Frederica Von Stade, which makes for stiff competition. All credit to Sally, then, for coming up with a song and performance that are equally effective, and will undoubtedly please the ears of many parents, not just Gabriella’s. 30 years after the birth of my own daughter, Sally’s song still tugs at my heartstrings.
  6. Dylan’s ‘The Hour That The Ship Comes In’ is more laidback than the version recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. It’s a decent version, but not one of my favourite songs at the best of times.
  7. The intro to Jane’s song ‘Murmansk Run’ rather cleverly transplants a quote from ‘What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor’ into a very Russian-sounding arrangement. Pastiche is a risky approach to a serious topic: pseudo-Russian music is more often associated with more humorous material such as Vera Johnson’s ‘The Minx From Pinsk’ or Tom Lehrer’s ‘Lobachevsky’. And there’s not a lot of humour to be found in a song remembering the incredibly dangerous Arctic convoys of World War II, sending lease-lend aid to the USSR. And yet after a few hearings, it seems to work rather well. Very nicely done.
  8. Dan’s ‘Under Full Sail’ is an instrumental set slightly reminiscent of Steeleye Span. Which is by no means a bad thing.
  9. ‘So We’ll Go No More A-Roving’ brings back some personal memories for me, as it’s one of the songs Sally and I did as a duo back in the late 60s. This version is even better! Sally’s voice is accompanied here only by harp, but subsequently, Dan’s strings pick up the theme for an instrumental version. The setting of Byron’s poem is credited here to Maude Valérie White, whose setting was indeed one of the earliest of many, but this is the melody from the setting by Richard Dyer-Bennet.
  10. ‘Port Mahon’ is a lovely version of Sydney Carter’s beautiful song.
  11. ‘The Axeman’ features Jane Ogilvie’s vocals, and turns out to be about wooden ships, not a serial killer or even Omen’s heavy-metal executioner. An interesting song by New Brunswick composer Douglas Carter, and sung rather well.
  12. Dan’s ‘I Do Not Feel The Giant Clams’ is a little weird – I guess you had to be there, and kayak is not my natural environment – but the band evidently had fun recording it.
  13. ‘Sonata Celtique’ successfully combines Jane’s piano with Dan’s violin. A good set of tunes from Jane.
  14. Dan’s ‘Way-O Way-O’ (not the similarly titled Joss Stone track) has a rough-hewn Caribbean-ish feel. I’m not averse to a little such pastiche – my wife and I frequently remind each other to put the lime in the coconut – and it’s an enjoyable way to finish.

It’s good to hear a band that clearly still has fun making an album, and Indulgence also has several outstanding moments with considerable emotional impact. In fact, ‘Where Does Mother Go?’ and ‘Gabriella Joyce’ are worth the price of the CD all by themselves. I hope to hear a lot more of their original material in future.

David Harley

Artist’s website: http://www.atlanticunion.ca/

Read David Harley’s review of Atlantic Union’s Homeward here.

ATLANTIC UNION – Homeward (Blue Island Records BI201601)

HomewardAtlantic Union is a long-established acoustic trio from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Their third CD Homeward features a new thematic approach as well as a change of personnel since their last album, 2004’s The Whole Dance. With the departure of Andrew Lang and the arrival of Jane Ogilvie, Sally Goddard is the only member of the band remaining from its original 1997 incarnation. However, Sally’s vocals have lost none of their power and purity, and the newer faces maintain Atlantic Union’s tradition of instrumental versatility. There’s something of a shift in focus on the material, too: there’s more emphasis on original songs, and the instrumentals are airs rather than dance tunes.

Track-by-Track Listing:

  1. The theme of ‘the pull towards home’ is set from the beginning by Sally Goddard’s ‘Two Coves And A Bay’. This song about the part of Newfoundland where she’s lived for the past 30 years has an irresistible, almost Irish lilt, though Sally’s roots are actually in England. Her guitar and voice are complemented by Jane Ogilvie’s harp and Dan Rubin’s octave mandolin, dulcimer, viola and string bass.
  2. The ‘Loch Tay Boat Song’ is a beautiful tune, beautifully sung by Sally with harp accompaniment from Jane. based on one collected in 1870 and published in Songs Of The North, edited by Sir Harold Boulton, who is credited as writing the words.
  3. ‘She’s Like The Swallow’ is a Newfoundland folk song, played here without a vocal part by Jane and Dan on harp and violin respectively. The sleeve notes describe this as “an exquisite melody” and I completely agree.
  4. Dan Rubin’s ‘A Clear And Ancient Harmony’ is loosely based on Thoreau’s poem Inspiration, with a cheerful melody and Dan’s vocal and guitar augmented by Sally’s harmony and Jane’s accordion and recorder.
  5. ‘Hush, Hush’ (also known as ‘Smile In Your Sleep’) is Jim McLean’s haunting song about the Highland Clearances, set to a pipe tune version of ‘Mist Covered Mountains Of Home’. Jane’s gentle vocals are augmented by her own harp and accordion and Dan’s octave mandolin and violin to good effect.
  6. Otto Kelland’s ‘Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s’ has been described as “the unofficial anthem of Labrador and Newfoundland” and describes the emotions of a homesick sailor longing to return to small boat fishing off Newfoundland. A simple accompaniment by Dan on guitar and Jane on accordion suit Sally’s accomplished vocals to perfection. One of my favourite tracks.
  7. ‘Waltz Around The Cape’ was written by Newfoundland songwriter Jim Payne, to a sprightly waltz rhythm carried by the guitar, bouzouki, bass and accordion accompaniment.
  8. Dan’s song ‘The Singing Stone’ is loosely based on the story of Jumping Mouse as told by Hyemeyohsts Storm in Seven Arrows. Dan takes lead vocals and plays guitar, bouzouki and string bass, with additional vocals from Jane and Sandy MacDonald. Curiously, it has an almost pop-y feel, a bit like a folk-rock interpretation of a forgotten Buddy Holly song. Which is by no means a bad thing: at any rate, it’s definitely growing on me.
  9. ‘Carolan’s Dream’, sometimes known as ‘Molly McAlpin’ was written by William Connellan, though O’Carolan is said to have played it often and to have preferred it to any piece of his own. It is played here, appropriately, as a solo harp piece by Jane, and a lovely piece it is too. I’m not the first person to note that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ may owe something to this tune, but then Led Zeppelin did, in their more derivative moments, borrow some excellent material.
  10. ‘Roads Go Ever On’ is another of Dan Rubin’s songs, based on Bilbo’s song from The Hobbit. Dan takes vocal and guitar, while Jane adds harp and accordion.
  11. Bob Pegg’s ‘A Dram For The Singer’ was written about a Scottish fishing community, but sounds just as appropriate for Newfoundland. Another favourite track, beautifully sung by a double-tracked Sally and accompanied by Dan on guitar, bouzouki and string bass, and by Jane on accordion. Actually, I don’t think it would be hated here in Cornwall, either. I may have to work on that…
  12. ‘Homeward Bound’ is not Paul Simon’s dolorous song about life on the road , but a piece by Marta Keen Thompson well known in choral circles, especially as arranged for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by Mack Wilberg, and deservedly so. Atlantic Union’s version is, unsurprising, less ambitiously arranged: just Sally’s voice, Jane’s harp and accordion, and Dan’s octave mandolin. But it works beautifully, and makes a thoughtful and satisfying end to the CD.

While a typical Atlantic Union set draws on a wide range of material from both sides of the Atlantic, in this case Canada is such a strong presence as to be almost a fourth member of the band. The result is an atmospheric, somewhat nostalgic set that manages to be both emotionally charged and uplifting. I’m looking forward to hearing where they take us next.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.atlanticunion.ca