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Sanctuary Records CMXBX 1030C

This four-disc set has a launch date of 16 th January 2006, and I have been sent advance copies of the individual CDs for review.

Now, I have to say that such a procedure is not the ideal. One wants to see the finished article. After all, the A4 material that accompanied the discs talked of "This beautiful four-CD Long Box set, lavishly illustrated with extensive liner notes". Well, I have to take that on trust, because I saw no "liner notes" and no "Long Box". And lest you accuse me of nitpicking, I have to tell you that I am not just here to review what I can HEAR, but also all I can SEE. And few things give me greater pleasure than graceful, easily readable liner notes in black print on a white background. But, that said, let me get down to the SOUNDS. And what a rich collection of sounds they are. But do they live up to the secondary title of this compilation viz. "An Anthology of British & Irish Folk 1955-1978"? Let's see.

Disc One covers the early heroes of the Revival. Trust me, the expected names are there, but I am not going to take up space in this review on "the expected"! I am more interested in listing the unexpected delights that ambushed me. By this I mean, if you were going to have a solo from a member of The Copper Family, you would expect most anthologists to choose Bob's pleasant tenor. Not so here. They go for the rasping voice of Uncle Ron with his totally compelling solo version of Hard Times of Old England.

And what an inspired opening selection this is. They start the four-CD set as they mean to continue: INTEGRITY OF CHOICE will be their guiding star, not "choosing the obvious". Disc Two examines the emergence of the post-Dylan singer/songwriter; Disc Three assembles an impressive line up of folk rock-bands from these shores; and Disc Four brings what they themselves term their "acid-folk" disc. Yet this fourth album has as track ten The Devonshire Farmer's Daughter from George Deacon & Marion Ross! Eh? "Acid-folk"?!

Look, some 34 years ago, I used to be a bit of a disciple of that engaging old rogue Dr. Timothy Leary. And I promise you, his ashes now turn-in-their-urn faster than ever, as he spins through Space. I saw George and Marion perform, bought their album, and pretty decent they were. But, ACID folk?

Old Timothy's ghost is still laughing.

But that said, there is not much to fault with this and a lot more to praise. It cannot ever be a definitive anthology when there are too many major names (pre 1978 remember) missing. Names like Jeannie Robertson and Bob Davenport.

But for every omission there's the welcome inclusion of now almost-forgotten names like Owen Hand, and he keeps (the also omitted) Cyril Tawney's memory alive with a fine rendition of Sally free And Easy. This collection will make a fine birthday present. But don't take their acid. It is more acid-drops than LSD.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 66 of The Living Tradition magazine.