Nancy Kerr & James Fagan – An Evening With

Album Review | Little Dish Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

Recorded at two consecutive sell out shows in Sheffield and rural Hertfordshire, An Evening With Nancy Kerr & James Fagan is a chance to hear a powerful duo in their favourite environment. It also represents something of a 22 year retrospective, with some frequently requested songs from the duos previous albums, while also including never recorded live favourites and some new Kerr compositions. One of those “Broadside” is a powerful song about the most brutal engagement between two warships. Nancy is in fine spirited voice and James delivers muscular percussive guitar. The song emerged, Nancy says, from melodic interplay during the Elizabethan Session with Martin Simpson and John Smith. The version here is given a dramatic feel by James and Nancy, comparison between the two versions is interesting. “I Am The Fox”, written for James by Nancy features James’ lead vocal and Nancy Kerr’s expressive and sometimes otherworldly violin, again the song shows us the dark side of folk, entering a world of reprisal, retribution, reckoning and equality. “Kitchen Dance” is infectious dance music with a wonderful Eastern European flavour, close your eyes and there is definitely more than four hands and two instruments, that is how tight and in twinned the players are. Nancy’s striking version of “Barbara Allen” was passed from Sandra Kerr, folk singer and Nancy’s mother. “The Herald of Free Enterprise” about the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, written by the amazing Robb Johnson is by turns poignant and biting with James stirring vocal and a ‘lump in the throat’ audience vocal. This track is respectfully dedicated to Roy Bailey who also performed the song and who died three days before these recordings. You can hear, I think, a touch of Bailey’s gentle outrage and burr in Fagan’s delivery. Either way, it’s a stunning track and the audience chorus with James’ guitar and Nancy’s violin makes you wish you were there. There is the same intensity to “Lovers Of Us All.” “Fragile Water” is an album standout charming love song, atmospheric and a testament to how much you can build with just two musicians and two voices. Further evidence is provided by the swooping tune set “Australian Waltzes”. The glorious “Anderson’s Coast” and rousing “Dance To Your Daddy” are frequently requested tracks from their five previous albums. “Mr Weather” again with wonderful massed vocals and a bit of a “Meet On The Ledge” feel topically mentions the recently fought over and defended trees of Sheffield. Soothing, rousing and righteous in one song. A captivating album by a powerful act who confidently show how far you can go with the acoustic duo. A fifteen track advert for the live Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and a reminder to go and see them.

Choice Track: “I am the Fox” (NSV 484)