Straight Furrow, Get Your Breath Back
by Michelle Erica Green

Straight Furrow began life playing Norfolk barn dances and now perform Celtic music all over East Anglia with a blend of traditional and innovative instrumentation. While their website emphasizes the weddings and parties that serve as the principal venues for Brian Eade, Jon Leff, and Susan Williams, the musicians have broadened their profile at public events and recorded their music on Get Your Breath Back.

Musically, this is a very strong recording, with precise instrumentation and a lovely selection of tunes. From the title I was expecting mostly foot stomping jigs and reels, and maybe a piece with a caller for dancers to follow. Instead, there's a mix of haunting airs and delicate melodies that one could imagine at a wedding processional.

"Boys of Blue Hill" and "Spanish Ladies" both feature giddy energetic wind and strings that make you want to get up and dance, with whistling high notes like laughter. "Rakes of Kildare" balances a very fast, skillfully played melody with percussive strings.

There are four arrangements of Turlough O'Carolan tunes: "Planxty Irwin/Fanny Power," "Lord Inchiquin" and "Nancy Cooper's." These offer a blend of tradition and variation that Jon explores on flute and recorder. "Planxty Irwin" and "Lord Inchiquin" both use slow, piercing winds contrasted with delicate plucked acoustic guitar for a very sweet sound, while the soaring major-key transitions in "Nancy Cooper's" bring a yearning warmth to the minor-key melody.

"Nancy's Waltz" features a beautiful alto melody line (with big, round notes), floating over a tight synthesizer sound vaguely reminiscent of bagpipes. It's an unusual combination, as is the light use of synthesizer on "Lovely Joan," with its wistful flute cadences. For the most part, the strings and bass play in perfect balance to the winds, but the quick, danceable tunes "The Railway/Fiery Clockface" are marred by distortion in the recording, with an annoying electronic buzz disrupting the light, pretty music. "Rakes of Kildare" suffers from squeaky high notes that I suspect were created by an imbalance in the recording, since Jon's performances are otherwise superb.

In performance, Straight Furrow employ keyboards and bodhran and play more contemporary music (like The Beatles'"Here Comes the Sun"). It's a shame that Get Your Breath Back displays all the drawbacks of a homemade recording. I couldn't play it at all on my finicky CD player, and my computer's CD-R drive had trouble transitioning between tracks using both Music Match Jukebox and Windows Media Player.

There are also a few false starts and loose notes (most noticeable at the end of "Spanish Ladies"), but it's still a pleasure to experience the understated beauty of these skillfully performed tunes.

More information on Straight Furrow can be found here .

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