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MAGPIE LANE Six for Gold Beautiful jo Records bejocd42

This Oxfordshire combo has always delivered the goods with its forthright, fresh and lively interpretations of songs and dance tunes from the English tradition, and this, their sixth release, does not disappoint.

Although the group remains a six-piece, Tom Bower and Di Whitehead have departed and their places alongside the stalwart founding trio (Ian Giles, Mat Green and Andy Turner) and Benji Kirkpatrick have been taken by newcomers Marguerite Hutchinson (whistles, recorders, flute) and Sophie Polhill (cello), both of whom also take turns at lead vocal duties. The new recruits add even more spice and variety to an already spicy and varied instrumental and vocal palette. When everyone is playing, the consort sound is fulsome indeed, possibly on occasions a little over-rich, but the well-blended individual instrumental colours are always clearly audible and the trademark group vitality is dynamic, exciting and most infectious. The 71 minutes of this well-filled CD amount to an epic journey through the English folk tradition, during the course of which the group revisits no less than13 songs, mixing "classics" with less familiar material, and always in interesting and convincing variants (whose source and context is always well explained in the admirable booklet notes). The songs are cleverly punctuated with three totally instrumental tracks, which range from a pair of sprightly 18th century dance tunes by Oxford's own John Malchair to a coupling of a French tune (Ganivelle) with a polka composed by Andy himself. Some of the songs also incorporate dance tunes - the ensemble has particular fun with the closing My Old Hat That I Got On (with a chorus that's a close relative of All For Me Grog).

My earlier slight reservation regarding the fulsomeness of the sound surfaces also in respect of one or two of the songs, and you might also feel that an abundance of ancillary harmonies (however well managed) can sometimes clutter and distract from the melody line, as on The Constant Lovers. I'll admit that on first playthrough I wasn't always entirely convinced by one or two of the ladies' lead vocal contributions - Sophie's on John Reilly, and Marguerite's on Bold William Taylor, for example, which at first appeared a tad over-decorated, even florid, but in fact I found I soon warmed to them. All of these minor points will probably be viewed as virtually negligible in the context of the uniformly invigorating impact of this welcomingly accessible CD, I must say.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 52 of The Living Tradition magazine.