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VARIOUS ARTISTS "Storytellers" Grapevine GRACD298

For a nice little collection of people's favourite songs of a particular genre, this CD put together under the auspices of BBC Radio 2, has generated a great deal of controversy. Back come all the old arguments about what is folk music.

It all ties in with the great Mike Harding controversy, in which criticism which should be clearly directed at the BBC for cutting back the amount of time allowed for folk music on the radio has been deflected to the one of our own who is doing his best to get some of our music on the radio. Ask instead what happened to the hour or more of folk features that used to play either side of Jim Lloyd's show?

The quality of the chosen songs and their performances speaks for themselves. Steve Earle and the Sharon Shannon Band with the 'Galway Girl', Waterson:Carthy with 'Midnight on the Water', Kate Rusby with 'Our Town'; seventies stuff like Richard and Linda Thomson's 'Walking on a Wire', Sandy Denny and early Fairport, John Martyn with 'May You Never', American cross-over stuff with Janis Ian's 'At Seventeen', Joan Baez' 'No Mermaid', Emmylou Harris, Mary Black and Nick Drake.

This collection comprises the area of folk music you might hear played by the likes of Jimmy Young. It is all excellent stuff, although it only covers a narrow area of the spectrum of what is described as folk music. Ironically that may make it a far more proselytising collection than one containing more obscure traditional items. Whatever people say, folk music does still exist today, as a social adjunct to working men's clubs and sports clubs, and singers choose songs from a diversity of areas as they did in the pubs of Sussex and elsewhere before industrialisation. Kid ourselves as we will, the real folk singers of the 21st Century sing what they hear on the radio. Too often the best songs don't get on the radio and if this redresses the balance - all power to its elbow. It also fits well in that modern social context, listening to music in the car.

Upset your friends and buy this album as their birthday present - you might get a conversion.

Bob Harragan

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