O'Hooley & Tidow (from the album Live at St George's, No Masters Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
Shortly before lockdown came into being here in England (do we remember a time before that term entered our consciousness?) Folk Singer/Songwriter’s Heidi Tidow and Belinda O'Hooley entered St. George's concert hall in the port city of Bristol to perform thirteen of their deeply personal songs. In the ten years since they began working together, the duo, also a married couple, have gained plaudits from all corners of the Folk world and beyond. You couldn't ask for a better setting; St George's, a former Gregorian church, renowned for its superb acoustics, is an inspiring, two-hundred-year-old creation. Bristol itself has a long musical history, not all of it commendable, but that in itself is commensurate to Folk music, which has always documented the dark as well as the light.
“The Tallest Tree” is as good an opener as any you will find. O'Hooley's piano playing is simply gorgeous, a rolling wave of sound, rising and falling like breath. Tidow's accented, painfully honest, vocals are highly affecting. Together they produce something truly special. When the duo harmonizes it adds another layer of beauty to the effect. You can see why the pair were chosen to provide a theme song for HBO/BBC drama “Gentleman Jack”, included on Live at St. Geroge’s. Their music, despite being an acoustic duo, is deeply cinematic, plunging you into a world of swelling emotion.
“Small, Big Love,” which was written for the couple's wedding day, is a sweet, bucolic masterpiece. Indeed, the earthy heart of this album (and O’Hooley & Tidow’s work as a whole) coupled with their unflinching rawness, both lyrically and musically, is what gives them strength and sets them apart. “Gentleman Jack” itself reels with ominous power. The melody is instantly memorable, a curious mix of traditional cadences and deep, modern tones. “Ronnie's Song” trickles gently like an autumn stream. That same sense of bittersweet wonder infuses the track with an irrepressible charm and narrative hook.
Sometimes you just have to step back and shake your head in wonder. Free of the flashy spotlights, in a whole other country than the one claiming the post-MTV, high-octane incessant celebrity machine. O'Hooley and Tidow have created a land of their own, a world where compassion and guilelessness are championed. As admirable musically as these compositions are, they are also brave. Listening to these songs, you feel like you are stepping inside an intimate circle of friendships and shared lives, and you feel welcome.
The sound, by the way, is perfect. For a concert recording, the immediacy and clarity is first class yet the live feel is certainly present, not just in the audience's appreciative response. Emanating from just two players, the expansive nature of the experience is extraordinary. O'Hooley and Tidow, with two voices and one piano, manage to fill the mind's landscape from horizon to horizon. “The Hum” weaves and dances, a cautionary tale of middle-class entitlement and human fallacies. New composition, “Woman in Space”, floats like the woman in question, orbiting a world at once vast and complex, yet small and familiar. The pull between everyday needs and grand aspirations.
Musically, lyrically, and in terms of integrity, the works of O'Hooley and Tidow cannot be faulted. Live at St George's will delight long-time fans. It will also delight anyone in search of sincere yet accessible acoustic Roots music. (by Bryant Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of O’Hooley & Tidow from AMAZON
For more information head over to the O’Hooley & Tidow website