Central Vermont musicians Rachel Clark and Bob DeMarco have been playing together for more than a decade, first as members of the Irish band Wind That Shakes the Barley, and for the past few years as duo Blackbird. The 13-tune sets and songs that are contained in their third release, Whistle and Sing, leave a lasting impression of many miles spent together on winding roads, and not just the 100-mile round trip from Florence to Sharon — she’s from Sharon, Vt., and he’s from “County Rutland.” Given the ease with which they play together — on a wide assortment of instruments, no less — it sounds as if they’ve covered those 100 miles many times to create and refine their music. Indeed, Clark and DeMarco sound right at home together.
Both musicians have broad and differing musical backgrounds. DeMarco’s mother came from County Limerick in Ireland, played the fiddle and sang to him in Gaelic. Clark’s parents were both professional classical musicians, and she lived in Sweden as a child. It comes as no surprise, then, that the musical bill of fare includes Irish fiddle tunes, Child ballads, Swedish harvest songs and accordion waltzes — the last of which includes one of Clark’s lovely originals.
While the musicians’ diverse upbringings make Whistle and Sing a varied and often wonderful listen, the album is not without some flaws. For example, DeMarco’s singing style doesn’t always fit the bill, despite his authentic Irish music cred. He has a pleasant voice but sometimes adds an unconvincing and unnecessary Celtic lilt to his vocals. DeMarco is, however, an impressive fiddler, a skill that he hasn’t shown off much on previous recordings. That’s a real discovery in a state where many of the good — and even not-so-good — fiddlers are already well known.
Given the abundance of styles and variety of instrumental performances, choosing the album’s highlights is a tall order. Is it when DeMarco is choogling along on the guitar or cittern while Clark is rolling high on the whistle? Or when DeMarco’s graceful fiddling is backed up by Clark’s piano? To these ears, maybe both.
Whistle and Sing by Blackbird is available at cdbaby.com.