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Martyn Wyndham-Read "Emu Plains" Fellside FECD 27

To celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary, Fellside Records are re-issuing some of their most successful albums and Martyn Wyndham-Read's 'Emu Plains' is one of them.

Martyn has been working the folk scene for many years using the formula of excellent songs sung with great sincerity and with simple but very effective guitar accompaniment. It works perfectly in live performances but does it stand up to sixteen tracks of a CD? The answer is resoundingly "yes!" Variety is added by fiddle accompaniment - by none other than Nic Jones on two tracks, and by Gerry Hallom's voice on the final track. The songs are varied as well; though Martyn has always favoured the slow, serious song he includes a fair sprinkling of more upbeat ones - 'Shearing in a Bar' being a good example.

Of the sixteen songs, thirteen are Australian and with their themes of love and loss, death, parting and nostalgia they show a gentle, sensitive side of Australian life. Two of my favourite tracks both have words by the folk poet Henry Lawson - 'Reedy River' and 'Do you think I do not know?' and the song from which the album takes its title, 'The Exile of Erin', is for me the most moving of all the many Irish exile ballads.

This album was first issued in 1981 and with the reissue comes A.L.Loyd's original Introduction in which he states that the songs are not all strictly folk songs. This is a statement that sparks off all kinds of sterile arguments about what defines a folk song. My own definition would be, a song which encapsulates the experience of 'ordinary' working people. It seems to me irrelevant whether it was passed from one generation to another by the oral tradition or whether it was printed in a newspaper (as was 'The exile of Erin'), or was originally a poem to which words have been added - as in the case of the Henry Lawson tracks or 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' (words by W.B.Yeats) or 'Ae Waukin O' (words by Robert Burns)

Forget definitions of what is and is not a folk song. Buy this album and sit back and enjoy it.

Howard Baker

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This album was reviewed in Issue 43 of The Living Tradition magazine.