Twenty years playing together! It seems like only yesterday they were cast in the role of ‘brat pack’ young folk upstarts. And now we’re talking the language of ‘retrospective’ with a new offering An Evening With… to showcase the impressive repertoire and instrumental prowess that has kept them at the top for this long. A live album is always a risk; you can never quite rekindle the full experience of being there. But they’ve made a good shot at it, with recordings from two shows – Hertfordshire and Sheffield – just as it happened. The exceptional sound quality doesn’t mask the participation of the audience who sing in harmony with Nancy and James on two tracks.
The songs include some of their most requested from the previous five albums – ‘Barbara Allen’, ‘Anderson’s Coast’ – plus some previously unrecorded tunes such as Willy Taylor’s ‘Sir John Fenwick’. Nancy’s stellar album Instar also gets a look in, with ‘Fragile Water’; but for many of us who’ve seen them live, the big number is ‘The Flaming Drones’ intertwined with the melody of ‘Dance To Your Daddy’, in which Nancy sings one melody while playing another on the fiddle – how does she do it?!
‘The Herald Of Free Enterprise’ is about the 1987 Zeebrugge ferry disaster, a song written by Robb Johnson and famously recorded by the late Roy Bailey. James added it as a tribute to Roy, and also because it includes some very fine audience chorus singing. Taking us into antipodean romantic poetry is Henry Lawson’s ‘The Outside Track’, set to music by Gerry Hallom and beautifully sung here by James with Nancy adding some tasty harmonies.
It’s been nine years, a house move, and two children since the duo’s last album, and both James and Nancy have branched out into their own respective projects – The James Brothers, The Full English and Melrose Quartet to name just three. They both come from renowned musical dynasties and this album is proof again that roots music runs deep through their every vein.
An Evening With Nancy Kerr & James Fagan is now available to pre-order.
When Rise Up hit my doormat I realised that it was a long time since I’d heard anything from The Outside Track. In fact it has been six years since Flash Company but an international band based in Scotland is always going to be very busy. There has been a line-up change with Norah Rendell and Cillian Ó’Dálaigh leaving the band to be replaced by Teresa Horgan. Technically, it was an all-female line-up that recorded Rise Up but Michael Ferrie, who plays guitar throughout, has now officially joined them.
The album opens with ‘Dark Reels’, a mighty set of tunes opening gently enough with Ailie Robertson’s harp but getting a bit heavier than you might expect. Two of the three are by Robertson and the third is by Lauren MacColl and they make for an excellent starter. Next is ‘Sweet Lover Of Mine’, a variation of ‘Scarborough Fair’ sung by Horgan followed by ‘Road To Rollo Bay’, a set of three tunes from the band’s homelands: Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The first of these was written by Shirley (or Shelly) Campbell from Prince Edward Isle and the others are by Jenna Reid and Neil Vallely.
‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ is an unusual tale of attempted matrimony and successful homicide while ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ presents a slightly unfamiliar take on the story set over a pulsing arrangement. ‘Neillí Pluincéad’ is one of the few titles that seems better in English than Irish and it’s unusual to hear O’Carolan’s words as well as the tune of ‘Eleanor Plunkett’. This is perhaps most haunting track. In contrast to the opener, ‘The Happy Reels’ is a pair of tunes written by Horgan and Mairi Rankin to cheer us up and ‘The Silver Bullet’ is a set of rocking tunes from Cape Breton.
Finally, ‘Lady Diamond’ is a big take on another celebrated murder ballad in all its gory detail and a fitting end to another splendid album from The Outside Track.
It’s nice to be uplifted every now and then and anyone that has witnessed the recently televised 2012 Olympics should appreciate this recording opening as it does with the question and answer riddle song “False Knight On The Road”. The multi-layered accompaniment featuring first a chunky (though not clunky) sparring rhythm guitar, fiddle and vocal joined by harp, bass, accordion and finally layered vocals it’s obvious The Outside Track know how to utilise their instruments to the best effect in much the same way that Clannad did in their early years. This strategic placement allows the band full musical scope culminating in a subtle crescendo that delivers excellent results and should (unless you’ve had your smiling gear removed) bring a warm glow to their listening public. Onto the second track and Cillian O’Dalaigh’s guitar set-up which sounds a bit like that of Extreme’s single “Words” makes no bones (well, the tune set title is titled “The Body Parts Set” after all) in showcasing the technical abilities of Fiona Black, Mairi Rankin, Norah Rendell and Allie Robertson. Personally speaking I couldn’t find a duff track here and catering as it will do for a majority of the traditional biased ‘folk’ market the band have produced an album that will sit comfortably on the shelf alongside artists the calibre of The Tannahill Weavers, Pentangle and Jock Tamson’s Bairns. Highly recommended!