Various Artists

Acoustic Folk Box

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The Acoustic Folk Box presents a masterful overview of folk music from the British Isles, encompassing some 40 years of history and dozens of artists. Each of the four discs covers an era, the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, and carries over an hour of music. Basically, The Acoustic Folk Box begins with the British folk revival of the 1960s and follows echoes that reverberate into the present. Many of the artists are well-known to general audiences (Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, and June Tabor), while others (Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs, and John Renbourn) are perhaps less known than one might hope, especially in the United States. Where to begin? First of all, there's Alexis Korner and Davy Graham's lovely duet "3/4 AD," perhaps the mother of all fine British fingerpicking, and fellow picker Bert Jansch's definitive version of "Angi." Briggs offers a chilling version of "She Moves Through the Fair," leaving little doubt where Sandy Denny drew her inspiration several years later. These discs also remind listeners that a number of folk-rockers never plugged in, or at least continued to experiment with acoustic music. The Incredible String Band remains one of the most enigmatic late-'60s bands, and "First Girl I Loved," with its off-center lyrics and unabashed romanticism, reminds one why. Pentangle creates a rare depth in "Let No Man Still Your Thyme," exploiting the rich possibilities of a full acoustic sound. A number of prominent women make memorable appearance over the course of The Acoustic Folk Box. Collins appears twice, first with Graham on the lovely "Reynardine" and again on the evocative "Bonnie Boy." Tabor delivers "Lay This Body Down" with her resonate vocals before returning with fellow Silly Sister Maddy Prior for "Blood and Gold/Mohacs." And there's no shortage of contemporary talent, with up and coming young artists like Eliza Carthy, Billy Bragg, and Kate Rusby. The Acoustic Folk Box may not be the last word on acoustic folk music from the British Isles, but it comes pretty darn close.

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