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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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JEFF BARNHART and
SPATS LANGHAM

We Wish We Were Twins

LAKE LACD342

 

 

Everywhere You Go

Travellin' All Alone

Smooth Sailing

Sleepy Head

Sleepy Head

Blue Evening

I Couldn't Get To It

Shake It Down

What Do I Care?

The Baltimore

King Chanticleer

Rose Of Washington Square

Isn't Love The Strangest Thing?

It's You

Let's Pretend There's A Moon

Every Evening

With My Love

Say It With Your Feet/happy Feet

When Did You Leave Heaven?

How Deep Is The Ocean?

I Wish I Were Twins


Jeff Barnhart (piano and vocals) and Spats Langham (banjo, guitar and vocals)

No recording details [79:23]


Though they’ve known each other for 20 years, and though they record for the same label, this is the first time that Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham have recorded together. Well, it was worth the wait. There are 21 tracks – let’s call it one track for every year they’ve been in touch – spread over a disc lasting 79 minutes. This two-man team has mined the song book, both known and more obscure, to create a balanced programme heard in the best light through varied and often ingenious arrangements.

They’ve gone for a rather domestic-sounding recording quality, if I can put it that way, which imparts an intimate sound to the proceedings. I’d note further that, unusually in my experience, Lake – which releases this disc in a gatefold sleeve - hasn’t noted a recording location. The sound is more parlour than concert hall, the better to reflect the two-man performance; Lake has excellent antenna for recording quality, as well as restoration, so all this is quite deliberate, I’m sure.

The song selection is clever as well as thoughtful. Travelin’ All Alone, a song Billie Holiday sang so memorably, is graced here with a gently melancholy piano solo and the song title is picked up in the following track, Alone, where Langham puts down his banjo and picks up his guitar - immediately imbuing things with a lightly springy feel. A peppy vocal chase chorus enlivens Smooth Sailing where they find good solutions to the questions of the breaks, and where Barnhart’s piano bass figures are always on the button. Langham takes most of the vocals, crooning in period style on the slow ballad Blue Evening, and channelling his own Frankie Half Pint Jaxon during the South Side Chicago hokum of I Couldn’t Get To It ably abetted by Barnhart’s cross-talk double entendre.

There’s a fresh feel to this disc, especially where one of the two men knew a song, and the other didn’t, as happened in The Baltimore. Barnhart brings a Walleresque brio to The Chanticleer, which has largely dropped from the repertoire, and Stride and Ragtime licks rule the roost here. The duo’s wicked interpolations into the original lyrics of Rose of Washington Square pep the thing up very amusingly and Every Evening sports some especially fine Spats picking and insouciant whistling. Song title wordplay rears its head again when the duo segue fromSay It With Your Feet, a Fats tune, into – of course – Happy Feet. Romantic melancholy haunts the performance of How Deep is the Ocean – especially appealing piano fills here - and there’s fulsome Harlem Stride to finish in I Wish I Were Twins.

If you’ve read this far you’re probably an admirer of these two stylistically and technically accomplished musicians, who stay true to their influences without ever becoming swamped by them. Together they make a splendid team; let’s hope for an encore.

Jonathan Woolf



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