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Album review: Rachel Davis and Darren McMullen – Home

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Partners in music and in life, Darren McMullen and Rachel Davis have moved in the top tier of East Coast players for more than a decade – as members of the Juno-nominated band Còig, as solo artists, and as accompanists for artists such as David Francey.

Now they’ve finally released an album that’s just the two of them, and the results are exactly as you’d expect: awe-inspiring playing that combines precise fret and bow work on fiddle, mandolin and bazouki with lightning speed and plenty of feeling.

But there’s another side to this record that you might not have predicted: fully half of the tracks are vocal numbers, mostly showcasing Rachel’s pure, sweet, gentle voice. But Darren ably duets with Rachel on the closing number and sings lead on “Made to be Played,” a moving ballad co-written with Dave Gunning, who also produced the project.

The songs come from a range of sources; the first single, “River and the Road,” is a tender rendition of Scottish singer-songwriter Archie Fisher’s song of longing punctuated with beautiful fiddle licks from Rachel.

The title track is a co-write with Terra Spencer, and there’s a cover of Gowan’s “Dancing on my own Ground.”

The album closes with a cover of the traditional Cornish number “The Sweet Nightingale,” featuring beautiful harmonies.

The vocal numbers on the album tend toward the slower end of the tempo spectrum, and they are evenly interspersed with the instrumental tunes, where the up-tempo magic happens.

“Dr. Eels” is a rollicking, fun number that shows off Darren’s prowess on mandola and Rachel’s virtuosity as a fiddler.

“The Conundrum Msr” is a set of tunes with an old-fashioned feel that starts out sweet and gets downright stompy.

And “Long House” similarly starts slow and sweet and gradually gets listeners tapping their toes.

The album features instrumental support from Margie Beaton on piano, Thierry Clouettte on bouzouki and foot percussion, and Zakk Cormier on guitar and foot percussion.

English folk singer Jackie Oats guests on backing vocals on the closing track.

With such variety on offer, it’s pretty tough to pick standouts.

But fans will be happy to know that the whole album lives up to the extraordinarily high standards that Darren and Rachel have already set for themselves.

They really had nothing left to prove coming into this project, but they’ve managed to outdo themselves, nonetheless.

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