Dipper Malkin 'Tricks of the Trade' Album Review

“A captivating new duo”, is how Dipper Malkin are described in their official biography, and as 'Wine and Women', the first song from their debut release, kicks into life, I must say I am intrigued. I had not heard anything from either John Dipper (viola d’amore) or Dave Malkin (guitar, vocals) previously, but the tune set is crafted well; in a way that brings music in the style of Steve Knightley and Jon Boden to mind. Opening with a tune set can be slightly risky when an artist chooses to combine the two, but it is something they have pulled off well.

Malkin’s nicely rugged voice gets the album underway with 'King Storm', and the baroque viola d’amore playing from Dipper compliments it nicely, as the accompanying tune sets a particularly hypnotising mood. 'King of Poland' is the first track that really grabs my attention from the off though, with a haunting melody delivered superbly on both instruments. It continues to twist around hauntingly; so much so that even at five minutes in length I wish it were longer. I also rather respect the duo for their very authentic-sound: most of the tracks sound almost live, and there is not a hint of overproduction to be seen.

The next few tracks round off well; will a varied selection of tunes that showcase fine instrumental playing and a range of complicated technique. In particular the viola d’amore is showcased nicely; as Italy’s answer to the hardingfele, the sympathetic strings really give the bowed playing a nicely rounded sound. However, whilst the tunes are highly enjoyable, I do feel that the album by this point is lacking some degrees of variety; particularly in the songs department. I rather enjoy Malkin’s voice, as previously stated; I would not be averse hearing more of it.

My main worry, at the minute, is that I haven’t heard anything that particularly grabs me as a climatic “show-stopper” of a piece; perhaps this will change as the album draws to a close. Looking back at the sleeve notes, they do describe the final song as their “song of choice to bring an evening to a close”, so we shall see how it fares. I would happily give the duo a shot live, and the studio musicianship is stunning, however.

As the penultimate track opens as another tune set with the first going by the name of 'Answerphone', I almost want to take that last comment back. It bursts into life with foot-stomping rhythm complimented by background percussion line; it’s the kind of playing that makes one want to just get up and dance immediately as it begins. 'The Parting Glass' is an interesting listen; it jumps between boisterous and calm, and what this version lacks in a good singalong it makes up for in a heart-warming farewell message.

Tricks of the Trade is a strong debut: excellent musicianship even if I would personally prefer more songs. It comes presented in a nicely refined case with lots of information about the songs that was definitely fun to read alongside an initial listen. I look forward to hearing more from Dipper and Malkin in the future.