Artisan,
Wings
(Terra Nova, 1995)

Artisan was still new to me when I discovered this CD late in 2000.

Artisan is an English close-harmony trio featuring the voices of Jacey Bedford, Hilary Spencer and Brian Bedford. The album comprises mostly new songs by Brian mixed with new arrangements of traditional pieces. Like the very best of folk music, the songs here are stories. They are witty and thought-provoking. They are the modern equivalent of the poetry of the centuries past.

"What's the Use of Wings" is in the mould of the riddle song, questioning our obsession with possessing things and people. The song reminds us how we clip birds wings to keep them near, cage wild animals and hybridise plants in the name of love.

"Talk to Me" is in some ways a mystery track. On first listening it seems to focus on that old refrain of the wife or husband in a relationship becoming complacent. But listen carefully to the words and you will get a funny surprise.

"Mabel" is recorded in a music hall style. It is an accelerating song which is both funny and sad. With lines concerning a "maiden of 71" awaiting a suitor, "the blacksmith with his hammer in his hand" and a gun-toting mother, it is a fabulous song which you want to sing but could find difficult to master.

"Under the Mistletoe" runs the risk of being a seasonal song, but again the wit and the social commentary make it a track for any time or party. "Buy and Buy" concerns consumerism, and once more Artisan gets an important message across with some very funny lines which mask the true sentiment.

There are five other tracks on the CD, which is a rare bargain. Discovering Wings has spurred me on to looking for other albums by this exceptional a cappella group.

One small criticism I would have is that the words of the songs are not printed on the sleeve. With Artisan, being a close-harmony group with English accents, the words are essential so we can catch every little nuance of the songs -- as well as sing along. On the plus side, repeated listening will give you the insights and such serial exposure is a joy in itself.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]