As this is the final edition of The Living Tradition magazine, I was pleased to receive this CD for review, as it took me back to the basics of traditional music. Nick Hart has stayed faithful to the versions of these old songs and ballads which he got from various singers - source singers as well as otherwise better-known performers - and has presented them here without undue embellishment. His uncomplicated, tasteful approach works very well.
May Song and Under The Leaves Of Life are the only two songs on this CD that I’d never heard of before. Those two, along with Dives And Lazarus, are considered ‘carols’ - simple songs with religious themes. I was particularly attracted to May Song, because although it begins with a Christian theme, the narrator is soon gathering bunches of ‘May’ that are just beginning to bud. That’s a pagan theme as well as a Christian one - demonstrating, perhaps, how one evolved from the other? In Lemany, a woman's parents have apparently rejected the narrator as a suitor because of the ‘white robes’ he used to wear. I love hearing songs that inspire me to learn more! What do these white robes signify? The ballad of Jack Hall (chimney sweep) is a well-known story of a successful highwayman who meets his fate at Tyburn - but whether he regrets his life of crime is doubtful. In The Outlandish Knight a woman turns the tables on her would-be murderer. In Lucy Wan, incest between brother and sister has created a child, the brother kills his sister - and a good portion of the ballad is an exchange between the brother and his mother, denying what he’s done. Henry Martin - derived from an older ballad about a pirate who lived in 1511 named Andrew Barton - leaves the pirate uncaptured… at least for ‘now’. Our Captain Calls is an enigmatic song/ballad. Very little information is given about the story characters, but there is quite a backstory, I suspect. It’s good to have a ballad of Robin Hood included here, keeping that body of tales alive in song. I’d like to see more like this; as a child I was a huge fan of Robin Hood stories, and it’s nice to revisit them in these old ballads. This one, The Bold Pedlar And Robin Hood, is about Robin meeting his cousin, Will Scarlett.
The accompaniment on this CD is varied, but always appropriate to the songs. Nick’s singing style is articulate, which I truly appreciate. Nice collection indeed.
This review appeared in Issue 145
of The Living Tradition magazine