Sing a Full Song is the second album from duo Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston. it is very much a carefully selected and meticulously played effort which allows the pair to show the range of their talents. Well known for her double bass contribution and collaboration with acclaimed folk duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer in Show Of Hands, Miranda has teamed up again with recognised mandolin player Rex Preston, who also takes on the role of producer, and spent the last 12 months collecting and recording an eclectic mix of songs.
They are joined on several tracks by guitarist and honorary member of the ‘duo’, Grant Gordy with whom they met and worked with in the Spring of 2012 at Sore Fingers Week – a bluegrass music residential camp, where their improvisations and musical partnership went down so well that it was only a matter of time before they recorded together. Gordy’s extra guitar adds some variation to the instrumentation by playing, as Rex notes, nothing prescribed, but whatever felt right to keep some spontaneity to the arrangements…very much in the way they felt they gelled musically when they first played together.
Of the track selection, Me And My Sister The Moon will be familiar to some fans from Miranda’s solo slots at Show Of Hands gigs where she has performed it accompanied by her own walking bassline, yet here it’s the guitar and mandolin which carry the rhythm to the performance. It’s the first of two Boo Hewerdine originals on the album, the second being a gorgeously understated performance of the gentle Windowbox. A beautiful ballad with a reflective and somewhat philosophical lyric which tells of looking back over a lifetime and the passing of time, bookended with the telling line “When I was young the world went on forever and a day”.
Rex adds his own vocal to two songs contributed by New Zealander Paul Metsers; the pick of these being the more melodic How Soon How Long which includes a rewrite of some of the lyrics to reflect a more topical approach to concerns over environmental issues. Rex also adds his stamp to the album in showing his instrumental prowess in his arrangement on Garry Harrison’s blue grass tune, Red Prairie Dawn. With the showcasing more on her voice, Miranda’s own recognisable double bass bowing adds a dark mood to Turn To Me, written by Radio 2 Folk Awards Horizon winner Bill Jones.
Rounding off the album is the title track written by renowned folk musician John Kirkpatrick, and sung out in a gentle harmony over a sparse and low drone of a backing, which is appropriately and poignantly dedicated to the late Fishermans Friends singer Trevor Grills after his recent tragic death while on tour. The stillness and sadness of the song is a distinguished and worthy tribute to a great guy.
Pride of place, goes to Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight; a traditional ballad from the Child collection, which is the pair’s first attempt at traditional song and one which they have made their own in the retelling of a well known saga. It stands out in the collection as not only being a more conventional folk tale but also in Miranda’s exceptional vocals accompanied by some subtle and delicate playing from Preston and Gordy. Amongst all the different influences and contributions to the album, it’s this traditional tale which takes the plaudits and is the stand out track.
Although several notable songwriters feature on the album, it is the arrangements by Sykes and Preston which adds their own stamp to the songs with some quality performances which should see them stamping their authority as an established folk duo. The pair will be out on tour throughout April and May as support to Show Of Hands, many dates of which are already sold.
Review by: Michael Ainscoe
Visit: www.sykespreston.com for tour dates and more.