Live : Alden, Patterson & Dashwood3 May 2019, Blue Sky [Bangor]
Norwich-based Alden, Patterson & Dashwood have released two studio albums. Call Me Home, a 2016 debut release, had 'a timeless innocence and clarity' in both its self-penned compositions (especially the title track) and the traditional arrangements. Last year's By the Night similarly showcased a 'radiant and delightful' mix of their own and found songs.
Christina Alden (vocals & guitar), Alex Patterson (violin & vocals) and Noel Dashwood (dobro guitar and vocals) have a trademark sound - interweaving vocals, harmonies and instruments until their songs are, however politely, ecstatic. Even though their recorded output is strong, the real revelation is seeing them on stage. At Blue Sky they played unamplified, as understated and unassuming as they would be in any folk club, but they still filled the large, vaulted room with two sets of exceptional sound.
The alchemy they collectively find comes from the unalloyed honesty of their performance. They meet once a week for a meal and to rehearse - they bring to a stage the conviviality of that experience; they clearly love the songs they play (the fine craft and imagination of their reworking of traditional tunes demonstrates that), but more importantly they clearly love playing together. There is nothing else added - no showmanship, pretence or self-regard stands between the music and the audience, which just leaves the magic of it as is.
To set the scene at Blue Sky, they opened with an upbeat version of Anna & Elizabeth's Goin' Across the Mountain, then one of Alex's tunes, the swirling, energised Old Priory. In the hour and a half of music that followed, Kingfish, The Riddle Song and Ten Thousand Miles stood just proud from the flow.
The first is a self-written piece, inspired by watching a David Attenborough programme about the behaviour of kingfish; it is evocative and rich played live, as rippling guitar underpins Christina's slowly unfurling, poetic lyric, and Noel's dobro and Alex's fiddle accent it.
As when recorded on Call Me Home, The Riddle Song (a traditional piece learnt from Hannah Sanders) segued into Bina's Jig - the two together a captivating, uplifting five minute folk jaunt.
The trio's reading of the Nic Jones 'owned' Ten Thousand Miles (also known in traditional form as Far Thee Well) shows confidence and competence. Live and on record they skirt Jones' elegiac reading, and offer instead a faster, breezier frame that celebrates love as much as mourns its loss. Implausibly, they make the song their own.
The night closed with a fully earned encore. This was a softly enthralling and humbly majestic gig in front of a remarkably young crowd; there is a depth of warm-heartedness and intimacy to Alden, Patterson & Dashwood's Americana-influenced folk that is revolutionary in fractured, fragmented times.