The Best of the Mediæval Bæbes is not an accurate title for this 1999 release, which merely compiled tracks from the Bæbes' first two releases, Salva Nos (1997) and Worldes Blysse (1998). The motive was likely the group's departure from the Virgin label. The group itself does not list The Best of the Mediæval Bæbes in its online discography, and you can see why. It's not that there's really anything wrong with the music included here; the sparse sound heard on the early albums, with traditional medieval and sacred music serving as a starting point for the arrangements and original tunes of Katherine Blake, was what put the Mediæval Bæbes on the map. If you've never heard them, they have a unique crossover take on medieval secular and sacred music. It's in the vocal timbres that they depart most dramatically from the source material; even when singing something like the Coventry Carol (track 2) relatively straight, they have a way of making medieval music sound like Britney Spears. There's nothing wrong with this; the Bæbes make no pretense at authenticity, their turn toward the medieval repertory apparently sprang from genuine enthusiasm (most of the various Bæbes through the years have been rock musicians), and their take on medieval song is no more extreme than those of many other musicians who have used it as a point of departure. The problem is that there's more to the Bæbes than this. Later albums saw the group (which has remained cohesive despite numerous personnel changes) work with rock experimentalist John Cale, draw on a great variety of traditional repertories (including Cornish), and add contemporary instruments to its music. Like the Bæbes or not, their style has developed in a consistent way, and it has brought them into mainstream work like a score for the BBC Queen Elizabeth drama The Virgin Queen. This disc may be useful as a starting point for those interested in the Mediæval Bæbes, although an album like Mirabilis (2005), with its melding of music from Provence to Scandinavia, would serve equally well.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim