Having spent a few years on other projects including stints with the first family of Englisn folk, Waterson:Carthy, Hammered Dulcimer virtuoso Maclaine Colston & Melodeon legend Saul Rose are re-launching with an album that takes a look back as well as forward. Half retrospective, Sand & Soil includes archive tracks from '96 & '98 together with new recordings, to form a flowing album of tunes & songs from sea & land. The unusual pairing of instruments sounds fresh & vibrant, & is key to their unique arrangements. Combine this with hearty voices & the result is a truly powerful performance.
An unusual pairing of instruments, an undeniably sound amount of dues-paying and a protracted gestation have combined to make this debut by Maclaine Colston & Saul Rose worth the wait. Sand & Soil is an engaging collection of gloriously ribald old English (and Scottish) songs and tunes, alongside a few recent compositions. This combination of tradition and innovation is largely successful.
Between them, Colston (hammered dulcimers, guitar and vocals) and Rose (melodeons and vocals) have collaborated with of a long line of Britfolk luminaries, including Waterson:Carthy, Faustus, Whapweasel, Jennifer Crook and Eliza Carthy's Kings of Calicutt.
It was with the latter that they collected the strathspey/hornpipe set Sweetness of Mary/Holywell Hornpipe, which, along with the other medley (Little Bear/Wobbly Cat/Twin Sisters), they actually recorded back in 1996.
Digitally restored, they sound fine alongside the other material. Rose's Wobbly Cat fits seamlessly between Lisa Ornstein's Little Bear and the old folkloric piece Twin Sisters, while Colston's own Emily's Waltz doesn't sound out of place, and features the resonant tones of his bass
What distinguishes this duo is their choice of ancient and
amusing song-stories, kicking off with The Lazy Farmer, a tale about a work-shy agriculturalist that spares few expletives. Bold Fisherman is more conventional; best of all is the hilarious Devil & The Feathery Wife, which - according to the concise and informative sleeve notes - they learned from Martin Carthy.
Colston's father Mark Colgan contributes a sturdy vocal on British Man O'War, followed by a rather less assured performance from Colston himself on Locksley Hall. Teph Kay offers the album's the only female voice on John Martyn's anti-war song Don't You Go, although her piercing soprano sounds a little jarring in this context.
Minor shortcomings aside, it's the novel instrumental textures that give Colston and Rose an edge over many of the current crop of folk hopefuls. Of course, Colston can't hold a candle to the likes of Indian santoor (dulcimer) maestro Shivkumar Sharma, but the way his crisp, melodic percussion interacts with Rose's pumping bellows is a delight throughout. --Jon Lusk
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