The quirky, colourful album artwork on Song and Laughter suggests a raucous, lighthearted record. That sense isn’t absent, but what’s really under the cover of this album is solid, joyful, honest folk music - happy, sad and uncompromising.
Humour and happiness does abound on this record - find it in the excellently harmonised In Praise of Alcohol, or in Windmill at Heage, a lovely ode to a windmill written by Shelley Posen.
Yet there’s plenty of darkness too, such as The Ordeal of Andrew Rose. This is a song of bloody despair, based on the true story of a captain who tortured one of his sailors. It’s very well sung and arranged, but is not easy listening, detailing as it does all the atrocities enacted on the unfortunate victim.
Eunson and Matthew’s arrangements are natural and respectful - lead by the music, but not controlled by it. The result is a lovely mixture of carefully crafted ballads, straightforward chorus songs and beautifully flowing tune sets.
As for the unaccompanied songs, so strong are their voices that it’s difficult to imagine anyone better qualified to sing them - from the perfectly controlled, yet natural-sounding pace to the superb harmonisation, they are perhaps the greatest triumph of this album.
Recordings, according to the duo’s website, are done "in as live and genuine a way as possible". True live recordings can be muddy-sounding, so this is a difficult balance to strike, but Eunson and Matthews have hit on it for this album; it loses little of the quality of a studio recording while having all the presence of a live show.
Song and Laughter more than lives up to its name. Listening, you get the sense of it striding confidently onto the English folk scene, and with just reason. Eunson and Matthews are very, very good - it’s not just their musicianship that grabs you, but the way they carry and delight in the tradition.Sol Loreto-Miller
Self-released on 21 February 2016.
All tracks performed, arranged, recorded, and mixed by Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews at Old Hall Farm Studio.
Engineering and production by Doug Eunson.
1. In Praise of Alcohol
2. Songbirds in June
3. The Grey Goose and The Gander
4. High Flyers
5. The Ordeal of Andrew Rose
6. Good Ale for My Money
7. Lilly Gilders
8. The Dutch in the Medway
9. Windmill at Heage
10. Tom Coulter’s Waltz / Treasure Trove
11. The Ant and the Grasshopper
12. Apple Tree Wassail