I've got to be honest with you, this is not the first time that I have reviewed Anto Morra's work, and when the chance came up to hear a full length album from him it was too good an opportunity to miss.
As the name suggests, Boudicca's Country is a collection of songs about East Anglia, all of which are taken from the Poet Gareth Calway's book Doin' Different (New Ballads From The East Of England) and arranged by Anto Morra himself.
The first thing that strikes you as you listen to this album is the sound, as a whole it is not overly produced, with Anto Morra's voice very much to the fore. Some tracks hark back to the traditional East Anglian style of singing while others draw on some more contemporary influences. The album opener, The Ballad of Boudicca is very reminiscent of Billy Bragg whilst Just Like Tom Paine's Blues seems to invoke the spirit of Marc Bolan and T-Rex.
As the CD progresses, we are introduced to a range of characters from East Anglian history. Some, like Boudicca, Nelson & Oliver Cromwell, will be well known outside the region. Others, like William Sawtry, Marjery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, less so. In each case, the person's story is effectively and simply told. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was that some of those stories are told in the first person, so we get to hear William Sawtrey, a 14th Century priest from Lynn, defend his beliefs and explain why he was burnt at the stake. Similarly, Oliver Cromwell returns from the grave to ask that his head be placed on a spike on Westminster Hall not for what he did in England but rather for his actions in Ireland.
Talking of ghosts, no collection like this would be complete without at least one spooky story. In this respect Boudicca's country does not disappoint giving us two, very different ghost stories. Firstly, The Ballad Of Anne Boleyn And The Burglar reflects the legend of Henry VIII's second wife returning in death to Blickling Hall, a place she loved in life. Altogether darker is The Ballad Of The Brown Lady which tells the story of Lady Dorothy Walpole who spent many years a virtual prisoner at at Raynham Hall before dying of Smallpox there in 1726.
For me, the standout song of the album tells the story of the man who is perhaps Norfolk's greatest hero. Half God Half Nelson is a classic halyard shanty that sets Lord Nelson's life to song and sounds that it could have been sung in a ship of the line in the days of sail.
In Boudicca's Country Anto Morra has taken Gareth Calway's words and produced a collection of memorable, catchy songs. Each one tells it's story effectively and the arrangement is sympathetic to the sentiments contained within. This CD works on numerous levels, it is a collection of fine songs, all of which have the potential to pass into the folk tradition, it also works as a historical record whilst also keeping some parts of East Anglian folklore alive.
It has been a pleasure to review this CD and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. Hopefully Boudicca's Country will inspire those who listen to it to delve deeper into the stories it contains. Now, if you'll excuse me i'm off to find a copy of Gareth Calway's Doin' Different.
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