The list of a dozen contributing musicians includes three on fiddle, two on bass and two playing bodhran, so yes, this is Celtic ground we’re about to cross. Turns out that Across The Great Divide are in fact a duo of singer/instrumentalist Karen Jones and guitarist/beatmaker Tony Burt, the pair hailing from Auckland and Wellington respectively.
Burt is a composer and also a documentary filmmaker, and along with his resonator lap steel he brings a flavouring of Americana music onto their ‘Uncommon Ground’.
Also of note, and surely impact, is the ethnic diversity of their collaborators, with musicians hailing from Ireland and Scotland, Sweden, Israel, Australia alongside several who identify as New Zealanders.
There’s little hurry here, you get the mental picture of the musicians sitting in a loose semi-circle, watching out for their time to chime in and complement the others.
At the heart of most tunes is the blending of the poignant delicacy of Jones’ clarsach harp with Burt’s open-toned resonator and the fiddle, or sometimes soprano saxophone courtesy of Hanna Wiskari-Griffiths.
They work delightfully together of course, all warm and evocative, and as the players carefully mind the folk ethic of allowing space the music itself floats and swirls.
Tony Burt originals intersperse trad tunes and re-worked Celtic classics, with three pairs, played as sets. Jones’ strong, naturally Celtic vocals are kept similarly occasional, so in places, this does seem like an instrumental album, or perhaps a recorded live performance.
Letting the music speak for itself was a good decision. A classic yes, but perhaps the overwhelming familiarity of penultimate tune Auld Lang Syne is misplaced, at least for me. As reverently and originally performed as it is, at each listen it somehow undoes the mystique built over the preceding 40 minutes of what is a very pleasant and well-mixed record.