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Magpie Lane Magpie Lane
Album: The 25th
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 15

Reviewing a Christmas CD on Midsummer Day must be something of a first! But this one’s a magnificent collection of markedly less familiar seasonal repertoire, performed by a trusty band of minstrels with a healthy track record. But there’s even more of a celebration afoot here, for this disc deliberately commemorates not only the abundantly obvious calendar date of 25th December but also the ordinal anniversary of the very first Magpie Lane CD, released in 1993 (but no, it’s not also their 25th release!).

Magpie Lane’s annual Christmas concerts are a year highlight for all, and they’ve given us seasonal records before (in 1995 and 2006); but the only item reprised here is The Trees Are All Bare (their regular Xmas show-closer), and there’s no predictability about this new selection. As ever, Magpie Lane’s music-making is characterised by a spirit and freshness that cuts through any familiarity in even the most well-trodden selections (I Saw Three Ships). Moreover, each instrumentalist is also a very good singer, so the purely a cappella items (Sellwood Molyneux’ Carol and the sparky Sheffield carol Hark Hark What News) come off very creditably; and Michael Fletcher’s carol In Winter Time and Pete Joshua’s secular song I Am Christmas Time both deserve wider currency too. The band’s well-considered instrumental backdrops are lively and clear-textured and managed with flair. They’ve also a gift for imaginative portmanteaux – Christmas Carousing paired with Mummers’ Jig & Reel and On A Cold Winter’s Day with Down In The Forest.

The 25th is a most joyful CD (for if two magpies signify joy, what price 25?) – and trust me, it’s not just for Christmas!

David Kidman