Review of the Call
fRoots - 22nd July 2014
You can’t move these days for tedious hacks bleating on about how brilliant young musicians are and how annoying it is that they don’t do anything meaningful, different or original with all their copious talent. I should know – I’m one of those tedious hacks. Not sure where that leaves Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar who are brilliant, aren’t doing anything desperately different or original with it, yet still sound… well… brilliant. They may not quite have captured the magic of their live set on this second album and there’s nothing remotely groundbreaking in a bunch of songs and tunes that might have come from any time across the last few decades. Yet Greg Russell’s voice has a rare sort of majesty, Algar’s fiddle is engagingly empathetic and honest with a lovely tone, the material is unhackneyed and well chosen, arrangements refreshingly simple and understated. These two surely are the real deal and this sounds like a timeless classic. Indeed, with Boden and Spiers vacating the premises, the path is surely open for them to fill the void and notch up a third BBC Folk Award next year, this time in the Big Boys’ section as Best Duo. There’s something of Tim Van Eyken in Russell’s delivery, singing with a vulnerable clarity which, at its best, delivers an emotive ballad like Royal Comrade (as featured on this issue’s fRoots 50 compilation) or The Rose In June with a subtle, emotional kick. No artifice, no affectation, no false thrills, just honest to goodness spills and when the song is good enough, the delivery is right and the arrangement appropriate, that’s more than enough. Some interesting choices of covers also make you sit up and take notice – Mick Ryan’s The Workhouse from his folk opera The Pauper’s Path; Phil Colclough’s misty-eyed The Call & Answer, with Russell’s nostalgic concertina even recalling the great Tony Rose; and a lovely bouzouki rhythm underpinning their confident delve into Americana with James Keelaghan’s heartbreaking story of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire, Cold Missouri Waters, a match for their previous show-stopper, The New Railroad. Throw in a couple of impressive songs by Ciaran’s dad Chris – Away From The Pits and A Season In Your Arms – plus the odd alluring harmony from Elly Lucas ad Jeana Leslie adding some genteel piano to Russell’s unaccompanied opening vocal on The Rose In June and you have a quiet, thoughtful but deeply impressive collection.