REVIEW: Partington & Sweeney’s “Commonplaces” is Delightful From Start to Finish


Though a bit stripped down to basics instrumentally the appeal of Partington & Sweeney’s 7-cut Commonplaces (drops Nov 1 – Trespass Music) will attract ears accustomed to the beauty of music produced by groups such as Curved Air, Pentangle & Steeleye Span.

The material is primarily culled from traditional sources with some original songs that draw generously from that inspired genre.

The tunes are light, inspired, filled with little stories about immigrants, farmers, factory workers who labored through the 19th & 20th Century America. A young mill worker who leaves the city of Manchester UK for new uncertain opportunities in New York.

“Times Are Getting Hard, Boys,” is a beautiful lullaby-like Dust Bowl (1930-40) era ballad excellently rendered by Mary Lee Partington (former singer with acclaimed New England band Pendragon). Mary Lee has that deep commanding tone similar to the superb June Tabor & Christine Collister.

Joining Mary Lee is Ed Sweeney (6-string guitar/5-string banjo), & award-winning musicians Sheila Falls (fiddle) & Torrin Ryan (Uilleann pipes/flute & tin whistle).

“Deer Island,” is especially powerful in its poignancy. What a pairing June Tabor (in her Oyster Band days – “Lullaby of London” & the classic 8-minute “The Water Is Wide” ) would be with Mary Lee. June being a tad deeper in tone & Mary Lee with her clarity. This is a beautiful song mindful of the stories that the English band Strawbs is known to do.

This duo should cover Strawbs’ magnificent David Cousins’ song retelling the true story of “Grace Darling” (a teenager who helped her lighthouse-keeper father save sailors from a sinking ship during a turbulent storm).

You don’t have to be a lover of traditional-melodies & songs to fully appreciate this unit & how they support the richness of Mary Lee’s wonderful voice. Even during a more tragic tale “New England’s Daughter,” that explores early workplace abuses.

Ms. Partington’s original song tells a banjo-led story with a disciplined melody. This is the tradition of Fairport Convention’s late lead singer Sandy Denny who would’ve enjoyed the work of Partington & Sweeney.

But at this junction, the duo is not as intense as Fairport Convention since they have no lead guitarist like Richard Thompson. Maybe that will be further down the road.

“Like Bread Upon the Water,” tells a tale of a young girl who recollects the harsh treatment she received on a Yankee farm where she was sent after the death of her mother. Seems cruelty in this era didn’t discriminate – she wasn’t a slave but probably a bondswoman, or indentured servant. And they suffered atrocities as well.

More commercial & accessible to modern ears is the final cut written by the beloved English folk singer Alan Bell. “So, Here’s to You,” — a gentle acoustic tune with fiddle & tin whistle. A penetrating melodic ballad. The LP – delightful from start to finish.

Produced by Ed Sweeney the 29-minute CD is available at

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