A great collaboration of old and new, humorous and serious from two exceptional musicians. www.jeanandchristina.com
“A great collaboration of old and new, humorous and serious from two exceptional musicians.”
Christina’s compositions and arrangements can be heard on several award wining CBC radio documentaries, short films and videos. In demand as a session player in her hometown of St. John’s, she has backed up Newfoundland’s best known musicians, including Emile Benoit, Buddy Wassisname, the Irish Descendants, Jean Hewson, Jim Payne, Fergus O’Byrne, Ron Hynes and others.
In July, 1995, she released her first solo album Fiddle Me This, (co-produced and accompanied by Jean Hewson). This album has received critical acclaim from across Canada, the U.S., Britain, and Ireland. It made the Rogue Folk Club (Vancouver) “Top 30” list for 1995, and has been described in Dirty Linen (Feb/Mar. 96) as “an album of vibrant and compelling music, played impeccably.”
Christina has a special committment to passing on this music to the next generation. Over the past ten years, she has taught more than a hundred young people the music of Rufus Guinchard and Emile Benoit. She directs the Step Fiddlers, a group of twenty young musicians aged six to seventeen. She has given workshops in Newfoundland instrumental music at Sound Symposium and at the Sidmouth Folk Festival in England. Her specialty is teaching the Suzuki Method, and she has been invited to teach fiddle and cello at Suzuki Institutes and workshops all over Eastern Canada, including St. John’s, Kingston, Guelph, Goderich, and Montreal.
Jean Hewson has been a professional musician for thirteen years, and is one of the most talented balladeers singing and playing in Newfoundland today. She is best known for her work with the now defunct folk group Barkin Kettle. This band performed at the Edmonton, Vancouver, and Hamilton folk festivals at Expo ’86, and at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986.
Since then, Jean has been involved with a variety of other bands, spanning a wide variety of musical styles. Folk fans remember her in Tuckamore, the Sub-Sisters, and Strings Attatched. Her versatile voice has also been heard in the country music trio Saddle Sorority and she rocked along with This Side Up. She was a member of Sweet Absalone, a Newfoundland traditional group including Christina Smith, Fergus O’Byrne, and Jim Payne.
Jean is well known in Newfoundland for her unique rhythm guitar arrangements and is the accompanist of choice at local sessions and festivals. She developed her accompaniment style backing up such notable Newfoundland fiddlers as Emile Benoit and Rufus Guinchard.
Jean has had many appearances singing and playing piano and guitar on CBC radio and television. She has one solo recording to her credit, entitled Early Spring, and with Christina Smith, she co-produced and arranged the instrumental album Fiddle Me This (1995) which recieved critical acclaim from the folk publications Sing Out and Dirty Linen. Jean has toured extensively throughout her home province performing and giving workshops in schools and at festivals and special community events. She is fluently bilingual in English and French, and holds a degree in Linguistics. A trained Classical pianist, and a qualified Suzuki Method piano teacher she resides in St. John’s where she teaches piano, voice and guitar.
In Newfoundland, “like ducks” is the equivalent of “in your dreams” or perhaps “as if.” It typifies the approach taken by Hewson and Smith to this collection of (mostly) traditional songs and tunes: play well, but above all have fun. I must confess that my experience of listening to this recording was colored by Smith and Hewson’s energetic concert set at the Champlain Valley Festival in Vermont, which left all in the audience wanting more. Christina Smith has established a reputation as the best of the “new generation” of Newfoundland fiddlers with her mastery of the traditional repertoire, which includes Irish, Scots, And French Canadian tunes – as well as compositions by old masters like Rufus Guinchard. Her fiddling has the rhythmic punch of someone raised in the dance tradition; and she adds additional layers to the songs with her use of cello and viola da gamba. Jean Hewson is a brilliant guitar player, whether holding down a dance beat on a traditional jig, or spinning an elegant accompaniment for an old ballad like “Lady In the East,” one of my favorite moments on this recording.
Comparisons to Pierre Bensusan and John Renbourn are not out of line here, I think. If I only had one carp about Like Ducks!, it would be that Hewson’s voice is placed too far back in the mix: when you hear her live, you appreciate what a great singer she really is! A great collaboration of old and new, humorous and serious from two exceptional musicians.”
MD, Sing Out!
“I know it’s still early in the new year, but I feel pretty confident in saying that Like Ducks! is the finest album of 1998, and one of the best recordings I have ever had the pleasure to listen to. Locally, Smith and Hewson are anything but strangers, having played separately with a host of other artists and together as a duo for more than 10 years. On Like Ducks!, these two potent talents are united in a truly masterful musical experience.
This is a collection of traditional Newfoundland songs, as well as fiddle tunes from the respected bows of the late great Emile Benoit and Rufus Guinchard. In addition, there’s an original song, Broken Down Girl, penned by Hewson, and an unbelievably different cover version of the country classic, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.
But this isn’t “just another” album of Newfoundland music.
The combination of Smith’s obvious mastery of fiddle and cello combined with Hewson’s stunning voice and unique guitar arrangements have breathed new life into what were, for me at least, fairly ordinary tunes. In the humorous ditty The Mallard, they deliver a traditional song that is performed in the round in much the same way the 12 Days of Christmas is sung, with each verse adding to a longer chorus. In the musical arrangement for this, Hewson and Smith are clearly having fun with the music, changing the paces, melodies and basically throwing off wacky little ditties as they work through the verses.
From there they continue to throw emotional curve balls. The haunting ballad Pride of the Season is rendered with such beauty that I wasn’t simply left speechless, I literally had tears rolling down my cheeks as I sat, earphones connected umbilical-like to my computer, in the middle of the office. Barely giving me time to dry my eyes, the duo rolls into Old Boney, a rollicking tune. The combination of Hewson’s voice, Smith’s strings and the subtle bass from Wade Pinhorn sends shivers up the spine. By the end of the album, the listener is left in a pleasant state of quivering, sated exhaustion.
This is a listening album, one of such power and beauty that I believe, thanks to their signing with the well respected Borealis label, will give Hewson and Smith an international reputation.”
The Daily Telegraph
St. John’s, Newfoundland, February, 1998
“The debut CD from Newfoundland duo Jean Hewson (guitar, vocals) and Christina Smith (fiddle, cello, viola) features lots of material from the folk tradition of their island province of Canada. Fourteen tracks are evenly split into songs and instrumentals. The vocal cuts are nicely varied, ranging from traditional numbers, such as a humorous, jolly, driving piece about eating “The Mallard” and the measured, moody, floating song of doomed lovers “Lady in the East,” to a stunning Hewson composition about alcoholism in contemporary society, “Broken Down Girl With No Money,” that almost sounds like a jaunty sea shanty – until you listen closely to the stark lyrics. Also of note is a truly outstanding cover of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” performed with spare instrumentation and sung like a lullaby. Hewson, who never heard the Hank Williams original, learned it via the oral tradition from a friend. Smith’s fiddling is front-and-center on the instrumental offerings. One set of jigs comes from the repertoire of Rufus Guinchard, and three selections are from the work of the revered Newfoundland fiddler Emile Benoit, including one waltz and the rousing opening track, the “Sound Symposium Jig” medley. The latter piece scores extra points for sensible and effective use of the didgeridoo, but loses them because of some extraneous squeaky noises. The duo augments its sound with bass and bodhran a few times, and accordion, tin whistle, and harmonica each appear once. Like Ducks! – a Newfoundland idiomatic phrase expressing scornful disbelief – is quite the ironic title for this fine album.”
Al Riess (Buffalo, NY)
Dirty Linen, August/September, 1998
“Smith and Hewson are no strangers to traditional scene here on the Island – or the rest of the country for that matter.
Although they recorded on different projects in the past, including their own solo CDs – Fiddle Me This and Early Spring respectively – this is the first recorded collaboration.
The list of musicians on this recording is too long to mention, how-ever, suffice it to say that they are tried and true ones that add a lot of colour and dimension to Like Ducks.
There are 14 tracks in all. The arrangements are unique and the musicianship is outstanding.
They’ve created a wonderful version of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry that sounds not much like the original, but it has an eerie quality that makes you feel for the performer.
Another great recording from our own backyard. Who said Canada stops at Halifax?”
The Newfoundland Herald, January 31, 1998
“That Newfoundland will not let itself be unknown in the folk music world is made certain by the ladies Smith and Hewson who with “Like Ducks!” have brought out a very noteworthy new-style folk CD. Although the Borealis label refers to it as traditional Newfoundland music, I would rather call it new-Celtic music, but what’s in a name? What we hear is very free and fine expression, which, regarding style and tone-colour reminds us of Maddy Prior with accompaniment of fiddle, cello, and guitar apart from the ladies themselves. That we’re talking about great talent here is made obvious by the stature and quantity of the guest musicians with names like Rory McLeod on harmonica, Sandy Morris on guitar, and Gerry Strong on tin whistle, to name only a few. Traditionals such as “The Mallard,” “Jolly Jack Tar,” and “The Liar’s Song” exemplify the choice of material for this CD, which has fourteen pieces, of which the most noteworthy is probably “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams. Absolutely a jewel of a song which immediately illustrates the power of these ladies and their innovative arrangements which keep the CD constantly moving. A beautiful CD with lots of singing but also great instrumentals.”
Newfolk Sounds Magazine, June/July 1998