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VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Ultimate Guide To English Folk

VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Ultimate Guide To English Folk
Arc Music EUCD2671

Deftly assembled by Jon Boden, this 35 track compilation covers the breadth of English traditional music from source singers to recent near-celebrity exponents. The remit is that all the music is of “unknown or collective authorship” – the one exception to the rule is Magpie Lane’s May Song, included for a particular reason which Jon explains in his extensive sleeve notes, a point expertly made. They also explain, contextually, the reasons for the inclusion of each track; inevitably, there are omissions – for example, there is a Steeleye track (from a later line up) but nothing by Fairport or The Albions. One should rather consider the delights of what is there – the Revival (represented by The Watersons, Carthy, Anne Briggs et al); the ‘second wave’ (Jones, Kirkpatrick, Blowzabella, Oysterband); more recent folk superstars and supergroups; current key figures like Sam Lee, Fay Hield and Jon himself. Past, present and future are juxtaposed in a way that highlights the timelessness of the music.

Because the tracks are not arranged chronologically (the set begins with Eliza Carthy’s Worcester City before moving on to The Copper Family then Jim Moray), there are some deft sequences – Peter Bellamy leads into Down The Moor by Tabor and Simpson and then The Demon Barbers – spot the connections, indeed. A rewarding and often thought-provoking listen.

It’s a satisfying anthology that reflects a vibrant, continuing tradition that ultimately leads to where it all began: the final track is Joseph Taylor’s Maria Marten from 1906. Whether you’re looking for a rounded introduction or a defining overview that will delight those already engaged with the music, it’s a top-notch compilation.

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 117 of The Living Tradition magazine.