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HARRY COX "The Bonny Labouring Boy" Topic TSCD512D

Harry Cox lived in the Catfield area of Norfolk and worked on the land for the best part of his life. He learned his songs from his family, but also set out to obtain worthwhile songs from local singers. He was first recorded in the 1920s with sound recordings starting in the 1930s and he continued to be recorded until his death in 1971. A small team of Paul Marsh, Reg Hall and Steve Roud went through the 750 extant recordings of Harry's singing and this double CD is the result.

Harry Cox was something special, someone to whom singing and dancing were an integral and cherished part of his community - something to be shared by the community rather than experienced in the formality of a concert room. I have only heard him on record. He has the broadest of Norfolk accents and a strong voice, occasionally verging on the gruff, but under this inauspicious exterior is a singer who has total control over his material. Timing, phrasing, stress, pace - all of these elements are displayed by a master of his art and all are geared to ensuring that the listener is given the best chance of appreciating the song - and not the singer.

This is an impressive collection. Two CDs for little more than the price of one, 50 tracks, nearly 2 hours of singing and playing, a 60-page booklet with an introduction by Reg Hall, an important biography by Paul Marsh and the complete texts of all the songs, plus notes by Steve Roud. There is little duplication with previously available material. Half-a-dozen songs overlap with the recent Rounder CD ('What Will Become Of England?' Rounder 1839) of Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax's recordings (none of which are used on the current CDs) - which contain more talk, more fragments and toasts and are more highly edited. This is an impressive and enjoyable reference document to be dipped into, rather than played right through and is one of the most important releases of recent years. It should be owned by anyone who professes an interest in English traditional song.

Paul Burgess

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This album was reviewed in Issue 42 of The Living Tradition magazine.