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Album: The Food Of Love Project
Label: Autolycus
Tracks: 12

This compilation-cum-concept-album was curated by Sebastian Reynolds and Tom McDonnell, commissioned to mark the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee, a key contribution to last year's commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, which explored the dramatist's enduring legacy. Gathered together for the project are a dozen artists working at the fringe of folk music, some of these (Flights Of Helios, James Bell, Stornoway, Brickwork Lizards) being representatives of Oxford's thriving music scene. Their adaptations and interpretations are often quite radical, and atmosphere is sometimes predominant over song expression or traditional style. A spectral, almost ghostly atmosphere that seems to reach its tentacles out down the ages through a prescient wyrd-folk of our own age that invokes its own kind of contemporary relevance and accentuates the timelessness of the texts and themes. Having said that, some of the artists are also keen to observe the feel, the ambience, if not the actualities, of "period performance" - Alasdair Roberts' take on Caleno Custure Me references a recording by the celebrated countertenor Alfred Deller, for instance, and the vocal rendition of Fortune My Foe (by Brickwork Lizards) is suitably eccentrically ornamented.

Familiar songs and music are often presented in an unfamiliar light - the unearthly pervasiveness of the Greensleeves melody appears to have been conjured out of Thomas Truax's toybox (a veritable Tardis of sounds), while the Irish love song Eibhlín A Riún is transformed into a sonorous, weirdly layered miniature by Stornoway, and a rustic banjo brings an air of antiquity to Nathaniel Mann and Nick Castell's hallucinatory deconstruction of Peg-a-Ramsay and Yellow Hose (from Twelfth Night). The same play provides the source for Farewell Dear Love, which receives a majestic, stately performance from Rob St, John accompanied by Pete Harvey's swooning cello lines. Another highlight comes with Scottish singer Kirsty Law, who breathes a delicate, subtly decorated Strength In A Whisper above a haunting drone accompaniment. The most abstract, spaced-out interpretation comes from The Children Of The Midnight Chimes, who take on Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep (whose original poetic source was allegedly written by Anne Boleyn while awaiting her beheading… spooky!). Perhaps the most thorny reworkings of the project are the disc's bookends, both sprawling, almost subliminal experiences whose hypnotic power demands close attention. At the other extreme, the most orthodoxly folky of the tracks is James Bell's nimble, honest take on Tom O' Bedlam, (which naturally uses the Nic Jones arrangement).

As a footnote, the album is dedicated to the memory of John Renbourn, whose presence might have graced the project (he had committed to participate) had he not tragically passed away in 2015.

In an era of ultra-accessible celeb-bedecked tributes and over-obvious celebratory albums, The Food Of Love project is a breath of fresh air, a revelatory collection that (irrespective of the absence of its "title song" from the tracklist) more than anything else entreats us to "play on".

David Kidman