Rattle on the Stovepipe – Poor Ellen Smith

Album Review | WildGoose | Review by Kev Boyd | Stars: 3/5

Listening to Poor Ellen Smith, the sixth album by Rattle on the Stovepipe on WildGoose records, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that this acoustic trio don’t hark from deepest Appalachia, such is the authentic stamp they bring to much of their repertoire. In fact, they hail from various parts of England and having congregated in and around West Sussex they bring with them a wealth of experience of singing, playing and teaching in the British, Irish and American traditions. Dave Arthur is an EFDSS Gold Badge holder who will perhaps be best known to some for his 1970s collaborations with Toni Arthur but whose more recent résumé includes two decades editing English Dance and Song and a considerable amount of time collecting songs and tunes in support of his passion for American Old Time music. Pete Cooper plays, teaches and writes about the fiddle traditions of England, Ireland, Europe and the United States and between them Dave and Pete form two-thirds of Rattle On The Stovepipe. They play a combination of fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, melodeon and harmonica and the trio is rounded off by Dan Stewart, an accomplished clawhammer banjo player who also contributes guitar and mandolin to the mix. It’s been their undertaking for several years to explore the relations between the British, Irish and American music and although the songs and tunes on Poor Ellen Smith draw largely on the American string band tradition they also include hints of repertoire from this side of the Atlantic as well as a few more recent compositions. There’s an awful lot to like here and as one might expect the musicianship throughout is exemplary. Fiddle and banjo tend to take the lead but there’s enough variety of instrumentation across the 17 tracks to ensure no specific format feels overused. Dave and Pete share the majority of the vocals with all three providing some sympathetic harmonies at various interludes and the CD comes with some nicely detailed notes for each track which adds a welcome depth to the overall package.