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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - A History of Progressive Folk CD (album) cover


Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)


Various Genres

2.95 | 2 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Now be thankful, but not for the presentation!

This is another release in the series of albums on the DejaVu Retro Gold label which offers appealing material at a budget cost. The usual frustrations in terms of the packaging are present, but there is no denying the fine quality of the music which is included here.

"An Anthology of Progressive Folk" is a collection of mainly live tracks (presumably these are cheaper for budget labels to obtain), by a good selection of bands who appear on this site (and some who do not). Impressively, we have contributions from Fairport Convention (4 tracks), Pentangle (4 tracks), Mostly Autumn (3 tracks), Karnataka (2 tracks), Strawbs (3 tracks) and Steeleye Span (3 tracks).

Despite the complete lack of any sleeve notes (as is customary for these Retro Gold issues), the licensing of all the tracks by Classic Rock Legends (CRL) gives us a strong hint of where to look for many of these versions. Pretty much all the tracks here are taken from DVD and CD releases by that label in the first half of the noughties. That is not to say that the recordings are from that period, as many of the releases offer older material, sometimes not previously available. Indeed, for those who are interested, the 2005 DVD release by CRL called "Folk rock, Rock Legends" has about 16 of these 22 tracks with the appropriate live footage.

For starters, the four Fairport tracks are all taken from their 2001 performance at Cropredy, these recordings being extracted from the DVD of that event. Three of the four numbers are classic Fairport including the legendary "Matty Groves" (here partnered with "Dirty Linen"), "Now be thankful" and the poignant "Meet on the ledge". This means of course that the original female vocal (by Sandy Denny) on "Matty groves" and "Meet on the ledge" is replaced by a male vocal (Simon Nicol I think). Nicol makes a decent fist of "Matty groves", but I would have rather had Swarb singing it, given the choice. Although "Meet on the ledge" does indeed have a male lead, there is actually a female vocalist too, plus a chorus of the assembled guest artists. The fourth song is a relatively new one called "Madeleine".

Likewise, the three tracks by The Strawbs appear to be from the CRL DVD simply called "The Strawbs". The performance was recorded by Central Television in 1990 for their Bedrock series. This means that Tony Hooper and Richard Hudson from the classic line up are present along with Dave Cousins (but not John Ford). Their first contribution here is appropriately the Sandy Denny tribute "Ringing down the years", a song brimming with raw emotion. This is counterbalanced later by a spirited run through of the crowd pleasing single "Lay down". "The river" and "Down by the sea" from "Bursting at the seams" are presented in the far more satisfactory order which sees "The river" placed first, these two songs having effectively now become a single piece.

The Karnataka tracks would appear to be from their 2003 "Live in the USA" DVD. "Heaven can wait" is a rather understated but highly melodic piece featuring the band's two female vocalists while "After the rain" is a louder, more conventional pop rock number.

The Steeleye Span songs are most probably from the CRL DVD simply called "Steeleye Span". That being the case, they were recorded as part of the 20th Anniversary tour in 1989. Songs such as "Black Jack Davy" and the superb "Thomas the Rhymer" capture the essence of the band, while displaying their prog folk credentials.

The Pentangle tracks appear to go way back to 1972, around the time of the "Solomon's seal" album, and a performance recorded for Belgian Television. The film of the gig lay unreleased for many years until it appeared on DVD in 2003. The sound quality is good here though, since it is not taken from a conventional gig as such. The four songs selected for inclusion offer a good representation of the band in the early 1970's.

The Lindisfarne (a band who have been considered for addition to our site) tracks are from a 1990 gig by the band released by CRL on DVD as "Lindisfarne". The excellent "Lady Eleanor" is probably as close as they came to anything prog, while "Any way the wind blows" has more in keeping with their wonderfully uplifting live performances. In both cases, the late Alan Hull is on top form vocally.

The Mostly Autumn tracks are the hardest to pin down, as they appear to come from a couple of different live DVDs or albums released by CRL in 2003. "Prints in the stone" is a reflective acoustic number while "Shindig" is a good old fashioned traditional jig featuring whistle. The best of their selections, and a clear highlight of the whole set is the 11+ minute "Shrinking violet".

As with pretty much all the Retro Gold budget releases, you have to be prepared to forego any aspirations for a decent presentation in order to obtain a good selection of music. In this case, the "History of progressive folk" title may be a tad optimistic, but there is no question that the bands who feature here had a major influence in the genre.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |


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