Founded and owned by acoustic pianist Bradley Parker-Sparrow, the Chicago-based Southport Records is primarily a jazz label. But Parker-Sparrow started dabbling in non-jazz releases when, in the '90s, he founded a sister label called Northport. Keeping the two labels separate was a wise move on the pianist's part; it allowed him to branch out without hurting Southport's reputation as a Chicago jazz indie. One of the first non-jazz releases that Parker-Sparrow put out on Northport was violinist/singer Katherine Hughes and dulcimer player Collins Trier's Rain, which was recorded in 1994 and 1995 and released in 1996. The music on this CD is for the most part instrumental folk-pop -- Rain has nothing to do with jazz, and that is why Parker-Sparrow released it on Northport instead of Southport. An expressive and charming vocalist, the Chicago-based Hughes sings on "I Think of You" and "Summer" -- both of which are pastoral songs that should appeal to fans of singer/songwriters like Eliza Gilkyson, Mary Fahl, and Sandy Denny. But the rest of the material is instrumental, and Hughes does a lot more violin playing than singing on this album. All of the tunes, however, fall into the folk-pop category, and Hughes is as appealing a violinist as she is a singer. Hughes lays out on some of the tracks; "Rhapsody," "Wish," and "Halloween" are among the Trier pieces that find him playing unaccompanied on the hammered dulcimer (an instrument that has often been heard in Celtic settings). But when Hughes and Trier play together -- which is what they do on most of the CD's 12 tracks -- they enjoy a strong rapport. Rain didn't make Hughes a superstar, nor did it establish Northport as the next Rounder. But the enjoyable disc demonstrated that Parker-Sparrow was quite capable of putting out something other than jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson