When Chumbawamba recorded the first version of English Rebel Songs 1391-1914 in 1988, it was a very unusual step for a band of anarcho-punks. After all, a bunch of unaccompanied traditional folk songs was in direct contrast to the loud noise of electric music. But the album spoke very eloquently, showing the band was committed to learning -- and disseminating teaching -- from history. And the singing was far better than anyone expected. Fifteen years on, they've learned a lot more about their voices, about music, and about the world. Additionally, the use of folk samples on Readymades has increased their folk credibility (which should never have been in doubt in the first place). And the songs remain utterly relevant -- anthems of the downtrodden and oppressed through the ages, from the 14th century to today and the miners' strike of 1984. The songs actually range from real folk pieces, like "The Cutty Wren" with its potent political symbolism, to music hall ("Idris Strike Song") and the cynical marching pieces of soldiers ("Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire"). This version, with a much better sound and singing, adds two songs not on the original -- "The Bad Squire" and the epic "Coal Not Dole," long a favorite in mining communities and a very succinct, cutting song. Putting this album in the public's gaze again is doing everyone a service.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson