Various Artists

Folk Festival: A Celebration of Music Recorded at the Sidmouth International Festival

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This double-CD box from the British-based Gottdiscs label is a cross-generational celebration of English folk music, covering 50 years in the history of the Sidmouth International Festival. The spread of talent and the diversity are enormous -- Nic Jones and Norma Waterson are juxtaposed with a cappella trio Coope Boyes & Simpson, button accordion virtuoso Jackie Daly and fiddler Seamus Connolly, blues singer/guitarist Eric Bibb, modern folk-rockers Home Service, electric folkies John Tams and his band, and living legend Martin Carthy, and that's just on the first disc. Although the festival goes back to 1954, the recordings here all date from the mid-'70s onward, into the early 21st century. Regardless of the vintage of the recordings, however, the audio quality is never less than good and usually far better -- the selection of material embraces the original purpose of the festival, as a fledgling folk-dance showcase in postwar England (sort of the folk "pre-boom"), and the changes that have taken place in the decades since, including '60s folk-rock and '70s electric folk, punk convert Pete Morton, and folk-based singer/songwriter Ralph McTell. The producers obviously had the luxury of a huge archive of material to choose from, because the performances and the audio quality are of uniformly high quality. The price is a bit high, but with the packaging -- which includes a nicely illustrated and annotated booklet -- one is getting not just a bunch of songs by some top performers but a look at a major slice of English musical history.

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