On the Side
(EDJ, 2004)

The duo Megson comes from Stockton-on-Tees in northeast England and has been gaining a profile lately supporting top musicians Karine Polwart and Seth Lakeman. On the Side is their debut album, and one that should ensure they make their mark on the contemporary British folk scene.

Debbie Palmer has appealingly pure vocals and also adds whistle, while Stu Hanna's vocals, guitar, mandola and bouzouki play an essential part on the album, too. Both are accomplished musicians working within the folk tradition and yet expanding its boundaries in an original and exciting way. Their music has a romantic and fresh feel that is likely to appeal to a wide audience.

On this album they combine four of their own compositions, with two numbers in which they put their own music to traditional lyrics, and five traditional songs. It is a balanced mix that works well.

Of their own compositions, the opener, "Rose on the Stem," is one of their most distinctive songs, with the beauty of Debbie's singing immediately making its mark. "Freefall" is an upbeat song with more than a hint of a '60s touch and finds Stu in good voice, too. "Just Stay" is a highlight with its simplicity and lyrical whistle playing.

Megson's treatment of traditional material, with rich and uplifting instrumentation, has similarities to Kate Rusby's approach. The duo is very at home with songs that tell a good story, like "Grace Darling" and "Oak & Ash," a poignant tale about longing for home.

"Sandy Dawe" is an unusual treatment of a nursery rhyme and may not be an easy listen for some, but it is characteristic of the Megson's willingness to experiment and not be pigeon-holed. They have been described as "nu folk," which is perhaps as good a definition as there is to suggest the way in which they take the traditional into the contemporary arena.

by Andy Jurgis
26 November 2005

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