Hilary James,
with Simon Mayor,
Laughing with the Moon
(Acoustics, 2004)

Mixing new and traditional songs and tunes, this virtuoso pair will lift your spirits in almost any circumstance. The opening track, "Dreams," sets the tune and tone. It is simple but entrancing.

The magic of Hilary James and Simon Mayer is that they make it seem so easy; we all think we could do it. "The Reel Thing" is an instrumental set that will have the traditional "air mandolin players" tweaking and twiddling.

I sat listening to "The Shearing's Not For You" for a full four plays -- for two reasons. The tune is fantastic, but I had heard it somewhere else in a different arrangement and with different words. Don't you just hate that? Eventually I realized it was used by Steeleye Span on "My Love." The notes inform us that these lyrics date back to Scotland in the 19th century. (That is another one of the joys of this CD; the notes tell us in precise detail where the traditional pieces originated.)

Their version of the famous "Carolan's Concerto" is faster than we are used to, but it works very well. It is a hallmark of the album that many tunes are given in what the duo feel is the original arrangement. To this end, "Hey Johnny Cope" is played at a much slower pace than we expect. Another well-known piece getting this treatment is the song "Shenandoah."

This is an exciting album bringing new perspectives and new life to some songs that we may have grown tired of, as well as introducing new works. This is pure joy. The voice, the instruments and the choice of tracks are hard to fault.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 29 January 2005