Various Artists - Songlinks 2

Various Artists - Songlinks 2
Fellside FECD190D

A review that just about writes itself! “How so?” I hear you cry in wonderment and disbelief. Here’s how.

In 2003 there was the Song Links Project initiated by Martyn Wyndham-Read, which explored Anglo-Australian cultural ties through song, and was extremely well received by any measure you care to name.

Now we have the second collection which takes as its focus, English traditional songs and their American variants. The CD packing is extremely lavish, but not in any vacuous ego-driven way; the booklet which houses the double CD, for instance, having impressive notes written by Shirley Collins and the entire booklet running to some eighty pages or so.

This will entertain anyone who likes Anglo-Saxon folk songs in all their rich regional varieties. However, there are additional dimensions to enjoy, such as the multi-generational aspect of the project, with relative newcomers such as Emily Portman, Lauren McCormick & Jim Causley taking their rightful place alongside veterans such as The Copper Family and a number of other artistes somewhere in between the “rookies” and the “vets”.

One CD is devoted to the English versions and the second to the American and it is a fascinating experience to contrast: for instance, the ancient theme of a contest between the devil and a human with the human’s soul as the prize - as done this side of the pond by John Kirkpatrick (‘Bow down to the Bonny Broom’) with Bruce Molsky’s ‘The Devils Nine Questions’.

Difficult to convey the real riches in this record or to isolate favourites as there are so many. I’ll settle on one song to demonstrate how those songs never lose their fascination: ‘Barbra Allen’ (or ‘Barbrie Ellen’ as the British version is listed here) is the most widely known and collected of the British Ballads in America (Sharp noted sixteen versions in Appalachia alone). Comparing the version by Mary Humphries –sounding quite like Chris Coe on this one - and the Stateside version by Cassie Franklin, what strikes is the intactness of the story in spite of it having first been published in the 17 th century and having widely travelled.

The singers, the variants, the booklet notes, the obvious integrity of all concerned but above all, the songs as just illustrated through the case of Barbra Allen, are all contributors to what makes this not only an easy work to review but a very enjoyable one.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 64 of The Living Tradition magazine.