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Ben Paley & Tab Hunter

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Have you ever looked for a really good album of fiddle tunes to play to your friend who isn’t sure they really like fiddle music? Well, this is the definitive CD. A delightful collection, a superb variety of tunes from North America, Ireland, Sweden, Scotland and other interesting parts of the World.

Played beautifully by Ben Paley with sensitive and inventive guitar backing by Tab Hunter. My favourite track is Fun der Chuph [sic] a Jewish wedding tune played when the happy couple walk from the ceremony. Then there is the bulgar and a hora from Odessa and Bessarabia – seriously foot tapping. This is followed by Little Rabbit, a North American banjo tune learnt from Ben’s dad Tom. Irish reels complete this 21 tune CD.

The detail given with the CD explains where the two learnt the tunes and where they come from. Shame about the photo of the two, they look as if someone has just hit them hard over the head. There is much talent and humour in this CD – a must for all traditional tune people!

Folk London, May 2000

This is masterly stuff. Ben’s fiddle playing combines seamlessly with Tab’s guitar playing as they range over traditional tunes from Irish, East European, Klezmer and (mainly) Swedish and American sources.

The playing throughout is a delight and each style is approached with a true understanding of the form so that the album has a very varied feel to it. Most of the driving pieces are from American repertoire and the beautiful melodies come from Sweden.

This is another of those DIY albums that seem to becoming so much more common with folk releases. All aspects of it stand as an example of the very high standards that can be achieved with such albums.

Sussex Folk Diary, April & May 2000

When I saw the names of the artists, I nearly had the horrors. Tab Hunter, indeed, Young Love I can do without. However, once the disc was on the system, my worst fears were soon dispelled for Ben Paley and Tab Hunter are two consummate musicians, one a fiddler and one a guitarist.

To hold the listeners’ attention with such limited instrumentation is no easy task but I can tell you that these guys do it admirably. There is a lovely variety in their music ranging from the Irish Jig on through Swedish influenced offerings culminating with the wonderful Fun der Chupah which is nothing less than a Jewish wedding tune. Particularly close to my heart is Grub Springs which puts me very much in mind of the old Cajun fiddler Rufus Thibedeaux – there’s a bit of name dropping for you!

I have heard a number of albums of this ilk and very often I have to politely say that they are pleasant but not necessarily something that I would recommend for purchase. In the case of Ben and Tab, you can reverse that judgement completely. The playing is as clean as a whistle which, perhaps, is what you might expect from their pedigree.

Most of the material is fiddle led but the second take on Glory in the Meeting House features Tab on his guitar. And what on earth he is up to on Jackson’s is beyond my comprehension. All I know is that it is damn fine music and this album deserves your investment.

Traditional Music Maker, September 2000

Subtitled “traditional fiddle and guitar music”, but that bland tag does little to indicate the sheer wealth of invention and quality of playing in this 69 minute CD crammed with 21 delightful tracks which range from American old-time to Scandinavian, Jewish, English and Irish tunes. Whatever the source or style, Ben and Tab deliver equally stunning performances – infectiously swinging and lively – displaying abundant musical virtuosity as well as true understanding of, and sympathy for, each musical idiom.

In case you didn’t already know, Ben’s the son of Tom Paley (fellow fiddler, and founder of the legendary New Lost City Ramblers some 40 years ago), with whom he tours in the New Deal String Band; Ben’s also a recognised authority on Swedish fiddle music (he’s recorded an album with Tom and published an anthology of tunes). Guitarist Tab has previously worked with Ben in the “infamous” Aardvarks and Wild Turkey Brothers, and the two musicians share an amazing empathy that’s audible in every bar, such that you really don’t notice the inherent limitations of the instrumentation.

There are two different takes on Glory in The Meeting House – one a guitar duet – both aptly demonstrating the duo’s strengths and versatility, but in truth the CD has an embarrassment of highlights! Listening to Ben and Tab, I keep being reminded of that old Swarbrick/Carthy/Disley LP Rags Reels And Airs – one of my seminal musical conversions! – It’s that neck-prickling combination of accomplished yet sensitive musicianship and a sense of total immersion and enjoyment in the music-making.

Aside from Ben and Tab, Nick Clyne helps out with a second guitar on a couple of tracks. This very classy album is extremely highly recommended.

Folk Roundabout, June 2001

Where can you get your hands on a fiddle and guitar album that clocks in at well over an hour with 21 tracks and manages to comprise American Old-Time tunes, Irish reels and jigs, Northumbrian tunes, Swedish tunes, Jewish wedding music, tunes from the Shetlands and the Pyrenees? (Plus a self-composed 10/8 tune – get your head around that one, folks!) And all played with gusto, finesse and breathtaking virtuosity?

Nowhere, you might think. But you’d be wrong. For Ben Paley and Tab Hunter, from England’s bohemian South Coast, have pulled off the near-impossible trick of assembling a diverse and eclectic album which manages to remain resolutely “authentic” at the same time as being imbued with a great deal of their individual personalities.

Paley’s the fiddler of the pair and a well-read one to boot. Expressive and lyrical, his gracings are a pleasure to the ear. Hunter’s the guitarist; a man with a remarkable ability to combine an on-the-money steadiness with expressive, smile-inducing flurries and runs. His playing transcends mere accompaniment; it’s a vital component of the pair’s overall sound. Whatever he does, however it might, on occasion, confound your expectations, his playing is always “right”, always creating exactly the sort of mood that the particular tune requires, or the element of harmony which spotlights a particular phrase.

We at Pay The Reckoning have to confess to a blissful lack of knowledge of some of the traditions which Paley and Hunter explore, particularly the Eastern European and Scandinavian traditions. However the beauty of their approach to making music is that such ignorance doesn’t matter. Neither individual is tight-arsed or po-faced. The key questions are … Did it affect you? Did you tap your foot? Did they raise a smile? Did you hit the repeat button?

The answer in all cases is a resounding yes. We may not know a great deal about polskas or bulgars or horas or brudlåts. But we do know fine tunes when we hear them. And we know controlled, yet emotionally-involved, playing when we hear it. And so we warmed immediately to tunes such as “Vallpigan”, “Fun der Chupah”, “Dickapolskan/Polska efter Pål Karl Persson”, “Sörmländsk Brudlåt/Kruspolskan” and “Odessa Bulgar/Bessarabye Hora”.

We were on terra cognita (sorry about the Latin … but the album’s title has got us to thinking in dead languages!) with the remainder of the album. The Old-Timey tunes such as “Glory In The Meeting House”, “Done Gone”, “Over The Waterfall”, “Johnson Boys”, “Grub Spring” and “Little Rabbit”, called to mind some of the great moments on albums such as The Watson Family. Candid, vigorous, infectious music, yet underpinned by remarkable virtuosity.

And as for tunes from the British, Irish and Scottish traditions. Well … they were the litmus test … and yet again the pair proved their mettle. On reel sets such as “Man Of The House/The Earl’s Chair”, “The Durham Rangers/The Morpeth Rant”, “Ship In The Clouds/Big Scioty” and two of Jackson’s reels, their feel for the music is abundantly obvious. And as for the jig set “Old Hag You Have Killed Me!/Fraher’s Jig” … You could easily be mistaken for thinking the lads hail from some place with Bally or Derry or Kil in the name!

This is a generous offering from players for whom passion and integrity are guiding musical principles. Above all else it’s a “fun” listen. Neither player is remotely self-conscious. (Mind you with such talent at their disposal, they can both afford to be less uptight than most!) The result is music that seeks to connect, to include rather than to exclude.

Pay the Reckoning, October 2002