Chris Sherburn & Denny Bartley

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Video shot for Spiral Earth at Ely Festival, 2010.
2017 gigs update

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Ian Kidman, Netrhythms

After essaying various lineup permutations and augmentations - notably the iconic ensemble Last Night’s Fun - over the past few years, those two nigh-inseparable touring companions Chris and Denny have now reverted to their initial dynamic duo format and released a fabulous new CD. The incredible bond that Irishman Denny and “Goolishman” Chris formed when they met on the 90s Hull session scene has never waned, and together they make an entirely unmistakable sound, a blend and delivery that simply could not be achieved by any other musicians on the folk circuit.

Here, then, Denny’s magisterially assured guitar work (complete with trademark rhythmic drive) ushers in the distinctive, plaintive, sensitive tone of Chris’s anglo concertina, with its inbred dancing fingers seamlessly dovetailing magical jig sigs into and out of the melody of the song Denny proceeds to sing with unbridled and yet fully considered passion. The duo’s critics might allege that their approach steers perilously close to becoming a formula - albeit a tried and tested one, for even those critics would have to admit that Chris and Denny almost certainly pioneered this approach originally. And it’s a mega-involving approach too, which paradoxically - and quite in spite of the restrictions imposed by the singularly limited instrumental complement - pays maximum dividends for the listener, who’s taken on an emotional rollercoaster: one moment virtually in tears at a passage of aching lonesome beauty and another barely able to contain feet (and senses!) from dancing with abandon around the galaxy.

Chris and Denny are definitely at the top of their game nowadays - and I thought that only a few years ago! But the intervening years have seen a continuing development in their individual and combined artistry that’s miraculous, especially noticeable in Denny’s singing, which, while retaining its essential rawness, has moved beyond the stentorian and sometimes over-declamatory character of his earlier efforts into the realms of intensely felt immediacy, with an even more involved passion being expressed within the lilting, decorative contours. At the same time, Chris’s playing has evened out the jagged edges while retaining that keen sense of spontaneity both in its own phrasing and its creative interaction with Denny.

As Sherburn & Bartley albums go, Lucy Wan moves on a stage from its predecessors in that only one track (Donnybrook Fair) is a fully-fledged tune-set - the remainder being primarily song-based - and in that it finally (and not before time!) also introduces Denny as a fantastic unaccompanied singer on the title song (placed right at the end of the disc), which receives an extraordinarily powerful and convincing performance, one of the finest I’ve ever heard of this ballad, and all super-concentrated into just a three-minute timespan.

The range of songs to receive the trademark Chris’n’Denny treatment is wider here than hitherto, with Shane MacGowan’s Rainy Night In Soho opening the new collection in style before moving on into more familiar traditional territory (Bantry Girl’s Lament, which is ideally combined with a slow reel by Charlie McKerron, and a glorious Sean Tyrrell-influenced rendition of Connie’s Song). Seeing Brendan Behan’s warhorse The Auld Triangle further down the tracklist brings misgivings, but these are immediately dispelled in Denny’s thoroughly refreshing revisit. Even more refreshingly different is Denny’s vital and involved take on the “loaded boxcar” chestnut New Railroad. The duo then turn in a leisurely yet epic (eight-minute, tho’ it doesn’t seem in any way overstretched) version of Sheep Stealers ingeniously built around the Humours Of Tullycrine reel.

So go eat your heart out Harry Potter – this is high-grade wizardry, the real deal. Lucy Wan is a disc shot through with blistering passion and totally brilliant musicianship, all its base elements melded together with serious alchemy.

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