R2/Rock & Reel - John Crosby

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Sarah McQuaid
The Plum Tree And The Rose
(4 stars)
Covering such an iconic song as John Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’ (his tribute to Nick Drake) is inevitably ambitious. That Sarah McQuaid carries this off is partly due to the haunting arrangement (featuring the burnished haze of Bill Blackmore’s trumpet underpinning her own vocal and guitar) but also because the singer’s throaty alto pitches perfectly with the reflective mood the lyric inhabits.

It’s Blackmore’s trumpet that opens and permeates ‘In Derby Cathedral’ with a Spanish tinge worthy of Miles Davis or Joaquin Rodrigo (a nod perhaps to McQuaid’s birthplace Madrid, though this is a very English sort of song and performance in spite of that flourish). Songs such as ‘The Sun Goes On Rising’ are bewitching because rather than in spite of their understated delivery. Behind the gentle lilt of the performance every note counts.

The recordings are diverse: there is a slight baroque feel to some of them, particularly on John Dowland’s 16th century ‘Can She Excuse My Wrongs’; alternatively, Cadenet’s even earlier – 13th century – piece ‘S’Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada’ has a more modern feel, partly due to the underlying pulse created by Noel Eccles’s percussion and the plucked notes from Gerry O’Beirne’s tiple. Very fine music making, indeed.