Devon has always been a prolific source of music and artists of every style. Singer, pianist and accordionist Jim Causley’s new release follows from his previous work in celebrating his native county.
Devonshire Roses is a collection of twenty tracks, almost all evergreen traditional songs with a few pleasant surprises, recorded at home whilst in lockdown with a line-up of renowned local artists including Nick Wyke and Matt Norman.
The material he gathered for this album, together with the songs that will feature in his imminent digital release Devonia, is mostly taken from Sabine Baring-Gould’s collection and from more recent sources from the early 20th century. There is a wide variety of themes in these songs, from bell ringing songs like the opening track and The Dolton Boys, to some very well-known titles such as The Rounding of Cape Horn and Widecombe Fair.
As one could expect from a county famous for its moorland areas, there are also a few songs infused with supernatural elements such as The Blue Flame / Queen of Hearts, inspired by the will-o-the-wisp, or My Lady’s Coach. The latter is a ghost song inspired by real life character Lady Mary Howard (1596-1671) of Fitzford House, Tavistock, who outlived her four husbands gaining the reputation of either being a witch or serial killer.
The most ancient song on this album is probably The Exeter Carol, whose lyrics and music were composed by Richard Smart (1428-1466), rector of Plymtree and vicar-choral at Exeter Cathedral.
Together with the poignant and romantic songs, many of which belong to the Baring-Gould collection, the album is packed with jolly and humorous tracks such as Tavistock Goozey Fair or Old Cobley, and it is the mixture of those and of the slow paced and more evocative compositions that, according to Causley’s own words, best represents the musical tradition of this county.
If Causley’s singing gets the headlines with its warm timbre and pronounced Devon accent, his accordion is as usual a pleasant companion for these lyrics. But it is his piano textures that deserve praise.
Without being byzantine or redundant, the piano textures provide a juxtaposed substrate for the songs without overshadowing them, leaving enough space for a delicate interplay with Wyke’s stringed instruments and Norman’s mandolin. This is exemplified by the solemnly sparse setting of Blackingstone Ravens, perhaps the most striking track on a deeply heartfelt album and a musical guide for the next holiday to Devon.Michele Mele
Released on CD and download 26 February 2021
1. The Bell Ringing
2. The Rounding of Cape Horn
3. Bampton Fair
4. Childe the Hunter
5. What About a Little Drop o Cider
6. The Blue Flame / Queen of Hearts
7. Old Cobley
9. The Dolton Boys
10. Blackingstone Ravens
11. The Mallard
12. Out Stepped Mother and Me
13. My Lady’s Coach
14. Glorious Devon
15. Fremington Great Meat Pie
16. Twenty One Years on Dartmoor
17. The Slapton Smuggler
18. Tavistock Goozey Fair
19. The Exeter Carol
20. Widecombe Fair