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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Classic Celtic Music From Smithsonian Folkways

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Classic Celtic Music From Smithsonian Folkways
Smithsonian Folkways SFWCD40560

This is a remarkable collection of 23 tracks. Most of the recordings are from the fifties, but, unlike many archivist compilations, the technical quality of the recordings is consistently impressive throughout. The set features some of the greatest names in Irish and Scottish music, including Lucy Stewart, Joe Heaney (a truly remarkable Rocks Of Bawn), Sarah Makem, Isla Cameron, Kevin Burke and Margaret Barry (as a banjo player rather than a vocalist, sadly). Rather more surprising, given the collection’s title, is the inclusion of recordings by Louis Killen, Billy Pigg, Shirley Collins and Harry Cox. I am sure none of them would use the word Celtic as a self-description; to be fair, I doubt anyone else on the set would have recognised that bit of ambiguous, transatlantic branding as something that applied to them.

So, abandon all thoughts of The Trades Descriptions Act, and feast yourself on great traditional performers giving consummate renditions of crucial songs: the tracklist includes Bonny Bunch Of Roses, Young Man Cut Down In His Prime, Bushes And Briars, The Queen Of May, The Devil Among The Tailors and As I Roved Out.

As remarkable as the songs and performers are, one is also struck by the catalogue of songcatchers whose recordings are the reason for the consistently high quality of the set. Working in both studio and field environments in locations throughout Britain and America, these collectors include Moses Asch, Jean Ritchie, Sam Charters, Barbara Dane, Ralph Rinzler and, inevitably, Alan Lomax. With recordings that span 1945 to 1978, performers who variously have disappeared into obscurity or gone on to international fame, and tunes and songs that are simply timeless, this set is irrefutable evidence of a vibrant, vital tradition that survives and thrives whatever convenient and inaccurate branding marketing men may choose to put upon it.

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.