Mark Haines
& Tom Leighton,
Hand to Hand
(Borealis, 2001)

When my 5-year-old daughter starts to dance when I put a new CD on, it's always a good sign. She danced all the way through the first spin of Hand to Hand, and it's been in rotation at our house ever since.

Mark Haines and Tom Leighton have come together to create a lovely record of what I'd call "updated traditional" folk tunes: some original, some covers, some instrumentals, some songs, some old, some new. These two hardworking and highly experienced Canadian musicians have been performing and recording together since the early '90s. This is their third album together, and it's on Canada's prestigious Borealis label.

The duo starts off with Bob Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In." It moves on to engaging instrumentals written by Leighton ("The Point du Chene Girl," "Welcome to Elmsdale" and others) and songs by Haines ("Hand to Hand," "Does that Mean It's Over?"). The CD also includes tunes by other writers such as Stompin' Tom Connors ("Gumboot Cloggeroo") and John Prine ("That's the Way That the World Goes Round"), and traditional songs given tasteful and original treatments ("Hielander's Marches," "Wild Mountain Thyme," a medley of accordion polkas).

Despite the eclectic-sounding lineup, the album has remarkable consistency, so much so that you have to check the liner notes to discover who wrote what and when. As a result, the entire project suggests a seamless connection from song to song and generation to generation, as Haines eloquently describes in the standout title track "Hand to Hand." "Now I play the Mason's Apron/I play the Devil's Dream/I sing Amazing Grace/And a Closer Walk With Thee/And from the church's bell call/Out to the country dance halls/I hear the tunes our fathers gave to me."

Leighton produced the album and plays many instruments including accordion, piano, synthesizers, bodhran, mandolin and more. Haines provides pleasingly weathered-sounding vocals, plus guitar, fiddle, mandolin and percussion. Additional parts are added by Bob Johnston, Conrad Kipping, Mitch Lewis (electric guitar and drums) and others. I particularly liked the addition of Miles Raine on saxophone on three tracks. There's also Cliff Skinner on French horn and Jeffrey Weismiller on baroque flute.

All in all, this is a highly enjoyable album, and not just for fans of traditional folk music. Hand to Hand is much more than that ... a musical accomplishment that will bring together listeners of many backgrounds, tastes and generations.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 16 November 2002

Buy it from