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Martin Carthy The Carthy Chronicles Free Reed Records FRQCD60

Almost everybody will have some tale to tell about Martin's influence on their involvement with folk music. Mine is Martin Carthy's 'Second Album', it was the first folk LP that I ever bought. Later I sent it up to my girlfriend in Scotland and now Heather Heywood freely credits Martin's influence on her approach to traditional songs. So how can anyone approach a review of an album project like this one with any sense of impartiality? The answer is you can't, nor do you need to, for this boxed set is a piece of musical history spanning thirty-five years or more years of the British Folk revival. This music is part of us all and I suggest that you listen, enjoy it and celebrate along with a musical giant as he approaches his 60th birthday.

The four CD set comes in a tall box with two pairs of CDs sitting in a tray. The 96 page booklet is really better described as a paperback book with an extensive musical and family biography of Martin together with comprehensive notes to all the songs. There is also a poster with a family tree showing just how far Martin's musical web spread.

For anybody with a reasonably comprehensive collection of Carthy recordings, there is still much of interest in the set. I have always been fond of compilations provided that they have been well put together. 'Best of' samplers rarely have a similar appeal. Don't let me give you the idea that these are compilation CDs in the form of a series of tracks from other CDs. An enormous amount of effort has been taken to seek out live recordings from clubs, concerts and radio broadcasts and these CDs have been lovingly put together. Each one is a satisfying mixture that will grace your CD player for a long time. Neither is this set merely a reference work to keep on the shelf, I guarantee you will play the CDs over and over again, and if you do refer to it, you will refer to it with pleasure.

Live versions of songs are often chosen over previously released tracks and there are several cuts from very early albums with The Thamesiders and the Three City Four. A new one on me was a track from a live album by Basque folk band, Oskorri, who, in acknowledgement of his influence on their music, invited Martin to join them to celebrate their 25 years as a band. (Where can I hear more?) There is a wonderful sequence with related songs starting with, 'The Wren', 'The King' and 'Joy Health Love and Peace' from Carthy & Swarbrick, Steeleye Span and The Watersons . and I am still only listening through one of the CDs, 'Carthy in Company'. In total there are 83 tracks and over five hours of music.

The only problem I see with the set is where to keep it. It doesn't fit on the nice neat rows of CDs on the shelves, but more than shape, there is currently nothing else from the folk scene to match it for its comprehensive coverage of a persons life in music. The answer again may come from the Free Reed stable as they develop the series under the title of 'Revival Masters'. Their Dransfields retrospective was a master stroke, their Peter Bellamy tribute built on that platform, and now The Carthy Chronicles sets a new standard.

Pete Heywood

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