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Saturday, 20th April 2019
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Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker - Fire and Fortune

The publicity blurb that comes with Fire and Fortune, the soon to be released album from Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, manages to get to the second sentence before mentioning that the pair are classically trained.  Uh oh, you think to yourself.  We're on the train to pseud's corner.

Thankfully, redemption is quick to arrive.  “But this isn't technical accomplishment.  This is about a song, first and foremost,” continues the literature.  Indeed.  While a highly skilled musician has more options than one less well schooled, the ability to impart feeling is the vital thing. Do Clarke and Walker deliver on that front?  To an extent, is the short answer.

Fire and Fortune is solidly English. With so many contemporary acoustic artists drawing on American influence, that will be reassuring for traditional folkies.  Even so, seven of the twelve tracks are original compositions and Clarke puts in a stint on tenor sax on The Seasons which works, against expectation.

The best of the self-penned tracks is Anyone But Me, with the bodhran beat war like.  “How dare you love anyone but me?” asks our heroine belligerently while still trying to retain a semblance of self respect.  It's the sort of question that would have you shuffling uneasily on the spot before quickly finding the exit.  

But the jewels on this release come from the interpretation of traditional songs.  My Love is Like a Red Red Rose sparkles - sweet vocals combining exquisitely with Walker's crisply delivered guitar.  Is there room for another version of Green Grow the Laurels?  When it's as good as the one here, then yes. 

On a more general note, the production is restrained throughout, the string arrangements are immaculate and the album gets better with each listen as the subtleties bed in.

Where this collection fails is in the lack of variation both in mood and tempo.   Clarke and Walker do melancholy as well as anyone, but other states lie largely unexplored.  That said, if you're in a sombre frame of mind anyway, it may be ideal listening, accompanied by a glass or six of vino.

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker may well produce a truly exceptional recording at some point, but it will be one that has a greater emotional breadth than Fire and Fortune.

- Les Pilling


Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker

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