Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo
Muir & Ed Trickett,
Turning Toward the Morning
(1994; Folk-Legacy, 1999)

Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir and Ed Trickett are solo musicians in their own right, but for the last 25 years they have also performed together in concert -- not as a trio in the traditional sense but as three individuals performing together. Like a knotwork pattern made with colored threads, the threads form an overall pattern but also remain distinct. Turning Toward the Morning is their most recent recorded collaboration of mostly traditional songs.

The blend of their voices is striking. Bok's is deep, Trickett's is tenor and Muir's is a rich alto, and they weave together perfectly as they swap leads, sometimes soloing. This is the kind of music that makes you look up in wonder at its beauty.

In the first track, "Three Score and Ten," Bok takes the lead in this song which grew out of a series of poems written by William Delf, a Grimsby fisherman, which were sold to raise money for the widows and orphans of fishermen lost at sea. Trickett takes over for the lovely "I Drew My Ship," in which a sailor sets out to see his true love, but she is too slow to open the door for him, and he sails away again. Bok underscores the music with whistle and both Bok and Muir provide subtle harmonies.

The gentle melody is followed by an instrumental set "St. Anne's Reel/Over the Waterfall." Bok starts out the jaunty, casual reel on guitar and Trickett joins in on hammered dulcimer, after which they launch into the second tune. Muir joins in with the "Bokwhistle," a 6-hole whistle designed by Bok himself, and the burr of the guitar, the fluid sound of the whistle and the crisp hammered dulcimer complement and balance each other perfectly.

I have only ever heard "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" as an instrumental reel, but in this case, it is a mournful ballad about the innocent victims of war and strife. Trickett begins a cappella, then a low sweet flute underscores the song. The simplicity of the arrangement enhances the power of the song's story, making it much more personal and effective.

The mood lightens in the next track, the sweet and simple "Isle au Haut Lullaby (Hay Ledge Song)" written by Bok. Muir sings lead and, again, Bok and Trickett's harmonies are just right. This is perhaps my favorite track on the album, and it evokes the same tenderness as the lullaby "John of Dreams." They follow up with a bell-like a cappella arrangement of the Quaker hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing." This song has always been a personal favorite of mine, and this recording captures the triumph of the spirit over the weariness of the world.

Next up is "The Horn of the Hunter," a rolling, swinging posthumous tribute to John Peel with Trickett in the lead. The melody is catchy -- don't be surprised if you find yourself humming the melody later. Bok takes over in "The Cocky at Bungaree," a traditional song about an unemployed man who has a rough time working for an Australian "cocky" (farmer).

Bok reconstructs a tune from the Machu Picchu area of Brazil in "Slow Dance from Machu Picchu." Pat Bok on low whistle joins Muir on high whistle (together, they sound remarkably like cane flutes) while Bok on high guitar and Trickett on low guitar provide support.

"Gentle Annie" was probably originally written by Stephen Foster, but shifted and changed over time after it reached Australia. Trickett's tenor captures the spirit of the song perfectly, and Bok's and Muir's harmonies are overwhelmingly rich.

According to the liner notes"Sunday Morning (Hymn)" by Paul Stookey and others "speaks of a simple, unshakeable faith." Muir solos on this song, accompanying herself on "Bell" guitar, a small bell-shaped 12-string guitar developed for Ann Muir by Bok, Sam Tibbetts and Nick Apollonio. The sound is delicate and crystalline but not fragile, highlighting the innocence of the lyrics and the narrator: "They passed a basket with some envelopes / I just had time to write a note / And all it said was 'I believe in you.'"

The final track is Bok's "Turning Toward the Morning," written for a friend struggling to overcome her troubles. The song reminds her that "the world is always turning toward the morning" and urges her to try to do the same. The song is frank but tender and moving, and it brims with hope.

Powerful voices that yield to each other and to the songs, thoughtful arrangements, and professional polish that doesn't gloss over the essentials make Turning Toward the Morning folk music at its finest.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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