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Happy Hosting, Happy New Year
In America is the biggest project to date from performing duo of Virginia-born vocalist Cathryn Craig and mercurial guitarist, long-time Strawbs' member Brian Willoughby. For not only was the record produced with Thomm Jutz (Mary Gauthier, Eric Brace & Peter Cooper…) and have the multi-talent play guitar alongside the seamless work of innovative guitar ace Willoughby but you also have Nashville musicians Brent Moyer, Ron de la Vega (Nanci Griffith), Richard Bailey (Steeldrivers) and Jeff Taylor on accordion and whistles but the concept album is served, superbly by material steeped in a migratory feel.
Craig and Willoughby are especially impressive and strong on the material of a Celtic hue. As in opening song, lilting piece “Curragh” and superb “Malahide Moon” (a story about Brian and his dad’s love of British motorcycles). While with infectious strains of accordion washing over it “These Old Stone Walls” has Willoughby speak of something his 86-year-old old uncle Tom said as they were traveling through Donegal on their trip around Ireland. The duo grasp hold of some of Ireland’s historic charm with both hands, as alongside their gypsy band of musicians they travel in mind down its western shores. Savaged back in the mid-1800s by the potato famine that sparked a big emigration to America and Australia there are places along which that do have a good many stories to tell. It is a beautiful piece, and with Craig’s flowing tones riding on the feel fired by the players it is a song you don’t want to end, and at the same time feel sorry for whatever comes next. It being such a hard act to follow. On this occasion we have the ideal song in banjo, slide guitar laced “Bullet”; showing greater urgency than on any other song the combination work a treat. To the degree I am tempted to suggest more of the same wouldn’t have come amiss!
As for the others Craig’s voice delivers the poetic “Eyes Open Wide” in beautiful fashion, and on bringing Wyoming musician, songwriter Moyer in to lend a hand on the writing front “We’re Walking Each Other Home” (complete with sensitive guitar from BW, BM and TJ) the listener can’t help but be elevated by the wondrous piece. The feeling is carried forth in the following song “The Fire” (the first song the duo wrote for Willoughby’s solo album, Black & White), and with the trio plus Andy Reiss (guitar) they repeat their superb work, and also have De la Vega’s cello work up a little magic to where I was held in awe at the music.
“Whatever Is For You” with it’s Celtic lift, accordion, whistle and mandola etc it has an uplifting feel, and with Craig playing her part it opens the gate for a tale about how there are millions with contented minds without a desire for more than they need in “The Middle”. “One More Song” contains some bluegrass sounding banjo and is the only import on the record; written by friends Val and Jimmy Montieth-Towler of Jiva it rounds off the record with a spring in it’s step. Only for there to be an additional four tracks; which include covers of classic songs “You’ve Lost The Lovin’ Feelin’, “Those Were The Days” (from when he played with Welsh songbird Mary Hopkin) and versions of one of the finest compositions they have ever written, “Alice’s Song” and with some slice pickin’ “I Will”. Song they felt they just had to record when they had such a fantastic set of musicians congregated with nothing better to do. Enjoy.
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