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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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The latest album from Hot Fingers, led by the wizardly Spats Langham, presents 22 period pieces, not all by any means familiar, in ingenious arrangements made the more so through versatile instrumentation. For that Langham himself takes much credit, wielding the banjo, ukulele, and guitar, but it’s Danny Blyth who wins the award for multi-instrumentalist par excellence in this set, given that he varies things through the use of guitar, mandolin, clarinet, bass clarinet, and harmonica. Malcolm Sked is his usual tower of strength and the singer is Emily Campbell not, as one might have supposed, Debbie Arthurs, who often sings with this groups and others like it.

The spirit of the peppy 20s is immediately summoned up and reprised throughout. Nothing – or few things – could be as evocative of time and place as Vo Do Do De O Blues. Unlike his confrere Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham is partial to Django Reinhardt and Oscar Alemain as he shows in a slow and respectful version of Chaplin’s Smile. Even more of this can be savoured in the Gypsy-Jazz La Gitane. Indeed this is not a stylistically hermetic group, and likes to chance its arm once in a while, as it does when mining the Leadbelly Songbook in In The Pines, complete with harmonica and Country Blues ethos. Emily Campbell may well have been listening to Beryl Davis when singing Undecided as there’s a genial, girlish lilt to the thing, even with Campbell’s vestigial classically-trained vibrato.

How interesting to hear the Kinks’ Ray Davies jazzed-up in Mr Pleasant though Spats soon dons his Bing-meets-Al chops for the immortal Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? The instrumental I enjoyed most was the splendid version of Shanghai Shuffle in which the group sounds much bigger – the biggest little band in the land – through its cultivation of rich ensemble and instrumental plenitude. Spats loves his Ukelele Ike and is a purveyor of period double-entendre (‘filth’ to the righteous), as he shows in If You Can’t Land Her On The Old Verandah. Well, indeed.

It’s reflective of a wide-ranging disc, not just one trading on novelty and 20s gestures. The envoi is a finger-snapping On The Sunny Side Of The Street which summons up Fats in his genial pomp and bids adieu in a delightfully glass half-full spirit. Kudos too to the warm recording engineered via Paul Adams’s ribbon microphones.

Jonathan Woolf

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