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Various Artists Various Artists
Album: The Ultimate Guide to English Folk
Label: ARC
Tracks: 35
Website: http://www.arcmusic.co.uk

It’s unfair to be expected to write a review of an album like this. Thirty-five tracks covering some of the greatest moments of recorded folk music since the early years of last century have been gathered by Jon Boden, of Bellowhead fame, for this double CD. Each one is beyond critical evaluation and each one is truly a thing of beauty.

Living up to its name The Ultimate Guide charts musical highpoints from Percy Grainger’s wax cylinder recording of 70-something Joseph Taylor singing Murder of Maria Marten in 1906 to 2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Sam Lee and Friends version of Bonny Bunch of Roses.

Among the glorious moments are Canadee-I-O by Nic Jones, which never fails to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up, and current favourites Leveret, who supply Northern Lass/The King’s Barrows. There are wonderful contributions too from Eliza and Martin Carthy, Martin Simpson, June Tabor and The Unthanks – in fact, most of the usual suspects and no one you are likely to be unfamiliar with.

The tracks selected are arrangements of traditional songs, ones at least 100 years old, with uncertain authorship, which may account for some omissions. It seems churlish to make a criticism but where are Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, John Renbourn/Pentangle, Richard Thompson, Dave Swarbrick, Home Service, Kathryn Tickell and Shirley Collins? There is definitely a need for a volume two – no excuses ARC Music!

There is also an oddly jarring moment when an archive recording of The Copper Family singing Come Write Me Down, Ye Powers Above sits between Eliza Carthy’s mighty Worcester City and Jim Moray’s electronic updating of Early One Morning, but it is understandable given the nature of the compilation.

Face it, as a folk enthusiast you should have all these tracks already in one form or another (apart from the Joseph Taylor, there aren’t any rarities) so it is a case of preaching to the converted. But with the festive season fast approaching this compilation is THE PERFECT PRESENT for the open-minded folk sceptic in your life. They will love you forever (and their life will never be the same again).

Andy Nelmes