Various Artists

Folk Roots: A Classic Anthology of Song

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This is a 20-song collection of British Isles folk from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s (leaning more heavily on the 1960s portion), virtually all of it taken from the rich Transatlantic catalog, Donovan's early hit "Universal Soldier" being a notable exception. That's also the only song here likely to be familiar to most pop fans, though Pentangle's "Light Flight" was a small British hit, and Ralph McTell's remake "Streets of London" (presented here in its original 1969 version) would get to Number Two in the U.K. charts in 1974. What's here is good, though the selection of tracks seems a bit arbitrary, also including numbers by Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, and slightly lesser-known figures of note like the Young Tradition, the Ian Campbell Folk Group, Mike and Lal Waterson, Sweeney's Men (whose version of "Willy O' Winsbury," included here, was influential on Fairport Convention's better-known interpretation of that song), and Archie Fisher. The problem -- not that it's much of a problem -- is that the CD doesn't function as either an overall best-of for highlights of British folk of the era, or as a comprehensive look at highlights of a certain strain of that genre. It's just a reasonably good anthology of stuff in the style, lacking balance as it draws so heavily from the Transatlantic vaults; you'll find nothing by Fairport Convention, Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins, or the Incredible String Band, just to mention a few prominent names. If you're after a more standard best-of sort of overview, the first two volumes of Rhino's Troubadours of British Folk series are much more highly recommended. If you're less fussy and just want an hour of decent, varied '60s-'70s British Isles folk, from traditional to folk-rock, this fills the bill, from the folk-rock of Pentangle and the Dransfields to one of the first Paul Simon covers (Harvey Andrews' "A Most Peculiar Man," from 1964), the Young Tradition's a cappella singing, and Isaac Guillory's jazzy folk-guitar virtuosity.

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