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Stephanie Hladowski & C Joynes - The Wild Wild Berry

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Artist: Stephanie Hladowski & C Joynes

Album: The Wild Wild Berry

Label: Bo'Weavil

Review date: Oct. 17, 2012

Neither Stephanie Hladowski nor Chris Joynes is any sort of purist. Hladowski has sung Bulgarian choral music, reggae, and whatever racket Ashtray Navigations felt like serving up on a particular night; Joynes’ excellent solo LPs conceal a wealth of dub, improv and ethnic elements behind their face of Fahey-esque finger-picking. But the 11 tracks on The Wild Wild Berry were all drawn from the archive at Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The format is pretty consistent with folk music practice of the past 50 years; Hladowski sings, sticking close to the original melodies, and Joynes accompanies her on acoustic guitar or harmonium. The album could easily be replicated in a power blackout.

But austerity suits these songs. They’re so strong that they don’t need a lot of extras, just performers who know how they should be treated. Hladowski’s delivery puts tune and story first, and confines her personal touch to the essential qualities of her voice. She sings a tad sharp, but that works to the material’s advantage; her pitch brooks no disregard. And while the songs are full of antique references to pretty maids, noble lords of high decree, the light of the hunter’s moon, their themes — love, class and warfare — have no expiration date. The protagonist of “Higher Germanie” raises her child alone while her husband fights abroad; another woman is put to death after using deadly nightshade to poison her upper-class lover in “The Wild Wild Berry.”

Joynes’s accompaniment adheres a similar discipline. His own records tend to be cheery affairs, but here he underscores and amplifies whatever sentiment the song requires. He rarely solos, preferring to shadow and frame Hladowski’s voice with tart plucking, sprightly rhythms, and tragedy-amplifying drones. Even when he uses sonorities foreign to English folk tradition, such as the discordant Dobro on “George Collins,” they underscore the lyric so that it’s the song, not the playing, that you notice first.

By Bill Meyer

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