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No Masters NMCD48

Could there be a more apposite title? Subtitled, A Concluding Event, this is CBS’s last album, ahead of their final tour. As harmonically perfect and musically fulfilling as anything in their long career, this is no mere fond farewell, no simple dwelling on past glories, no safe visiting of former triumphs. Here are 15 CBS classics; songs that in other circumstances would be stage favourites for years to come.

Contemporary yet rooted in tradition (both their own and that of British music), the album retains everything that shaped them and made them great – astute social observation, like Lester’s If We Were Them, a genuinely disquieting comment on mass migration; collaboration, in echoes of their work with Michael Morpurgo and the Ballads Of Child Migration project; an ear for great songs by other writers. Most of all, though, one feels the power of their roots in the tradition – a stunning version of Nic Jones’ arrangement of Flandyke Shore, Napoleon’s Dream from the singing of Sam Larner, Sean Rafferty’s poem From Hereabout Hill set to the tune of Lemady and coupled to a traditional May Song, and an indictment of the Iraq War (and its progeny) to the tune of a 19th century American hymn.

There are lighter moments, too – PET Song whose comedy fades not a jot with repeated listenings.

One would not expect Jim, Barry and Lester to go gently and the album’s (and their) final song could not be better chosen – Anthem For A Planet’s Children (how neat is that indefinite article?) sets Jim Boyes’ words to a tune by a 16th century German composer. The final verse – with touching irony – says it all:

Our future is together

Our past is reconciled

We’ll join our hands in friendship

We cannot be reviled.

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 116 of The Living Tradition magazine.