Cath & Phil Tyler – The Ox and the Ax
Thread Recordings – 30 March 2018
If you like your music honest and free from studio beeps and production flourishes and your vocals real and untouched by autotune, then this new album from Anglo-American duo Cath and Phil Tyler should hold you. I had a similar reaction to this record upon first hearing it as I had to Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer‘s Child Ballads, which was an immediate sense of pleasure at such unpretentious interpretations of beautiful songs, sang with care and love by two people who collect and cherish the history and importance of folk song. In fact, The Ox and the Ax is a perfect blend of Ballads and Hladowski and Joynes‘ wonderful Wild Wild Berry from 2012.
Like those two albums, the songs on here are all traditional, starting with Child Ballad 10, ‘The Two Sisters’, a vital tune that has roots as far back as the sixteenth century. We’ve come across a version of this one recently, in Laura Baird‘s ‘Dreadful Wind and Rain’, a key track from I Wish I Were a Sparrow. Here, the Tyler’s play it straight, with Phil’s guitar seeking out a simple melody and Cath’s sometimes vulnerable voice lending the song authenticity and weight. The tune then blends into a version of the traditional Scottish jig ‘A Fisherman’s Song for Attracting Seals’, with the acoustic guitar holding the rhythm and Cath’s violin joining in to lift the tune into an enjoyable dance.
The string playing around the Tylers’ two voices on this record really give it its power, and much of that is down to the burrs in the playing and singing being left on record. On the a capella ‘Rainbow’, taken from Arkansas singer Almeda Riddle’s version of the tune, the singing from both is wonderful in its delicacy; neither have the strongest or most perfect voices, but this somehow brings an extra note of genuine to the piece. The same can be said of any track on the record, but mention must go to ‘Rained a Mist’, an Appalachian number that sweetens the slight starkness of ‘Rainbow’ perfectly and creates a fine double act heading towards the middle of the set.
However, the outstanding piece on the album returns us across the pond and back to Scotland, for ‘Lady Dysie’, a centuries-old song dealing with copulation and politics (of course: this is folk music). The duo have taken their version from Martin Carthy’s, sang on John Peel’s radio show. Where Carthy would have used a guitar to accompany, Cath and Phil opt for banjo, playing it with a skeletal claw hammer technique bringing the melody to the fore and creating a sense of foreboding that finds Cath’s lone vocal and combines with it to tell a story of yearning that could come from the depths of the castle. It’s a song that shouts of experience and ability and just one on a set free from duds and well worth the eight-year wait.
Premiere: King Henry
“We found the text in an (online) edition of ‘A Family Heritage: The Story and Songs of LaRena Clarke’. It’s some kind of riddle song, though as is common, it seems to have been mixed up a bit over the years, possibly with another song about a ‘King Henry’, which all adds to the mystery. The tune is our own.” Cath & Phil.
Stream/download ‘King Henry’ now via Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes: http://smarturl.it/THR003-05
Cath & Phil Tyler Live Dates
11/02 • London @ The Slaughtered Lamb
15/02 • Totnes @ Dartmouth Inn
03/03 • Newcastle upon Tyne @ The Cluny (supporting Charlie Parr)
23/03 • Glasgow @ Glad Cafe
24/03 • Edinburgh @ The Waverley Bar
25/03 • Newcastle upon Tyne @ Victoria Tunnel (early concert)
25/03 • Newcastle upon Tyne @ Cumberland Arms (Album Launch)
07/04 • Salford @ Eagle Inn (Album Launch)
1-14 April • UK Album Launch Tour, full dates to-be-announced
7 April • Salford @ Eagle Inn (Album Launch, plus Sharron Kraus & Nick Jonah Davis)
Photo Credit: Jason Thompson