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The Living Tradition Magazine

FATEA - Reviews

Emma and The Professor
Album: Old Black Crow
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 11


"Way down deep in the forest, Something's calling me, Stopped me dead in the middle of my tracks, To see what I could see". So starts the debut album from Shropshire based Emma and The Professor.

And indeed, it does call, this is roots music that grabs you as it binds folk and blues amongst other genres before being impeccably flourished with an acoustic Middle Eastern influenced tie.

There's an energy here too, from the opening "Old Black Crow", a bluesy high octane blast about selling your soul to the devil. Emma Heath's strong and clear vocals astound, her percussive and rhythmic guitar is the perfect match for Mark Davies who conjures a range of sound out of the Bodhran and Cajon that must be heard to be believed. Add in Benji Kirkpatrick on banjo and the track rocks. Fans of the award-winning band Babajack should be delighted.

An exquisite droning fiddle accompanies "Lily" another strong self-penned song from Heath and Davies that takes us a journey along the mystical ridgeways, memories of loved ones evoked as Ben Walsh's violin finally flies.

"Night time drifting shadows shifting twisting turning lovers yearning everlasting so enchanting" Eastern Sunrise is a true lyrical Turkish Delight that explodes with rhythm courtesy of some swirling strings (Cello, Violin &Viola) by Marion Fleetwood.

The traditional calling song "She Moved Through the Fair" is given an airing, Emma's ethereal vocals add to the intended ghostly feel of a visitor from beyond the grave. A unique take, controlled spaces, less becomes more, less sad than Cara Dillion's version, less plaintive than Anne Briggs yet more eerily, heart wrenchingly spooky. Wow doesn't even begin to describe it.

"Kisses Sweeter than Wine", a chestnut of a song, written by the Weavers, "popped up" by Frankie Vaughn and sanitized by "Peter, Paul & Mary", here it is attacked with gusto, full throttle with Benji's banjo the backdrop and all the better for it. Shout it, scream it, live it, claim it. Job done it's yours, once heard you won't want to look backwards.

"Battle Of The Marches" a call to arms, an ancient mystic force battle soon to begin "Build a fire and beat the drum, dance and sing and they will come" all wrapped round a stirring tune boosted with Bouzouki from Kirkpatrick.

Regret and introspection are addressed in "Servant Slave" an unequal relationship song, sad and sensitive, a sea change from what has become before.

A breather is all it is before "Rain and Snow" shows us another way to end a relationship. Covered by luminaries as diverse as Grateful Dead, Pentangle and Obray Ramsey (an artist who I came to via Iain Matthews), this traditional song in Emma and The Professors hands becomes a foot tapping stomper driven by a racy country style fiddle from Jack Rowe and powered on by Mark's Cajon and emotionally lifted by Emma's vocals. You can just image this going down a storm on the festival scene.

Add in a cover of the Levellers "Men-an-Tol" which sounds as good if not better than the original and the album concludes which the Middle Eastern influenced "Rivers". It leaves you wanting more.

To make the "Old Black Crow" Emma and The Professor may well have sold their souls to the devil. The music is quite honestly so amazingly good, mixing original tales of myth and folklore that sit happily side by side with definitive versions of more well-known material.

If you don't see these guys on the Festival Scene, you'll regret it. Trust me.

Ian Cripps

Old Black Crow - Review

Old Black Crow is the latest high-energy musical offering from Shropshire couple Emma Heath (guitar and vocals) and Mark Davies (bodhrán and Cajon). The duo is joined by an impressive array of guest musicians including Benji Kirkpatrick (banjo and bouzouki); Ben Walsh (fiddle); Jack Rowe (fiddle) and Marion Fleetwood (fiddle and string arrangements).

Many of the songs are self-penned and inspired by the ancient history and beauty of the couple’s native Shropshire. Emma has a rich and powerful voice and driving guitar style while Mark’s no-nonsense bodhrán playing roots the music and sets its direction. The end result is an uplifting and exciting listening experience.

Right from the opening title track it is clear that this is an album of full-throttle songs! ‘Old Black Crow’ is a rockin’ bluesy romp, driven along nicely by Benji Kirkpatrick guesting on banjo.

Mark’s ‘Battle Of The Marches’ features Kirkpatrick on bouzouki and tells tales of the mysticism that lies in the hills of the duo’s native Shropshire. This is no wimpy fairy story, more a full-on battle of Middle-earth epic proportions!

The beautifully sensitive ‘Servant Slave’ is of marked contrast. With its Middle-Eastern overtones reinforced by Kirkpatrick’s bouzouki, here Emma’s voice is showcased to good effect.

The traditional American murder ballad ‘Rain And Snow’ is given a makeover, with impressive fiddle provided by Jack Rowe. The concluding ‘Rivers’ is like an Indian Raga, Emma harmonising with herself across Mark’s driving rhythm section.

Old Black Crow radiates with the energy that lies within the ancient lands of the Welsh Marches. Here are tales of sorrow, loss, hope and love all delivered with deep passion and soul.

Keith Whiddon

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