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MAR 03 - Folk Roots "The Silverlode"

These two Leeds-based musicians have buckets of skill and experience between them. Napper, currently one-third of The Idle Road (with Ciaran Boyle and Dave Kosky), has in the past worked variously with Gina LeFaux, Tom McConville, Gordon Tyrrall and Alistair Russell. Bliss has latterly returned to acoustic music after a post-student flirtation with new-wave rock through bands like Pin-ups; he now fronts the excellent Slide (uk), and is fast gaining a reputation as a gifted (predominantly) folk-style songwriter. The teaming-up of these two in a working duo context was perhaps inevitable, for their talents can be seen as perfectly complementary and their ideas and approaches genuinely compatible. With each of them, a proven high level of musicianship can be taken as given - both are gifted exponents of mandolin-family instruments, Napper additionally a virtuoso on tenor banjo, Bliss no slouch on guitar, and both possess characterful singing voices - but, every bit as importantly, each is equally comfortable with either a leading or supporting role, which makes the internal flexibility for such a working arrangement infinitely more satisfying than in many similarly instrumentally-disposed duos. Each has a wholly natural mutual responsiveness to each other's playing and/or singing, which, allied to their enthusiasm for music-making (in and out of sessions), makes for a tremendously winning combination.

The Silverlode is their first duo release, and intersperses short tune-sets with songs, some traditional and some self-composed. The tunes are intelligently arranged for the various instruments and expertly played, with neither undue haste nor emphasis on note-spinning, and the non-traditional examples, all composed by Bliss, have a true feel for the idiom. The songs necessarily include solid traditional fare from each Tom's repertoire - Napper contributes 'Poor Labourers,' Bliss 'The Blue Cockade' for instance - but it's Bliss's own compositions that stand out here. They're superior examples of modern-day folk writing, clearly rooted in traditional styling yet with a contemporary sensibility. Show Of Hands are clearly a major influence (and I'm sure Bliss won't mind me observing that he even visually resembles Steve Knightley!), but Bliss is very quickly acquiring his own distinctive songwriting voice; he has a grand sense of narrative, augmented by the knack of creating catchy hooks and choruses to enhance already memorable tunes. 'The Violin,' a partially-invented tale ostensibly told by said instrument over the ages, is an outstanding piece of storytelling indeed, and here benefits from a guest appearance by Tom McConville weaving his own individual magic. The whole album has an immediate, live feel, and the limited amount of multitracking is sensible and non-distracting. Typically too, the duo's craftsmanlike attention to detail extends right to the insert notes. A superb package that's unlikely to disappoint.

David Kidman fROOTS and Netrythms

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