Various Artists

Heart of England: The Legends of English Folk

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The music of the British Isles is especially important for American listeners, not only due to the sheer beauty of the material, but because it is an ancestor of so many of their own folkways. It is found in its purest form in Appalachian and old-timey music, but frequently turns up as well in bluegrass, Christmas carols, nursery rhymes, and Protestant hymns. Of course, British rock bands during the '60s British Invasion were heavily influenced by traditional sources, and thus brought them across the pond in newer guises. Heart of England: The Legends of English Folk was assembled by John Crosby of Folk Roots magazine, who obviously not only knows his stuff but has excellent taste. As with his other compilation, Heart of Scotland, he ranges between widely disparate styles, covering everything from love-lorn ballads to spirited dance sets. Within a mere 16 tracks, he manages to capture the lost essence of the English countryside, where life was governed by the changing seasons, agrarian concerns, and the way of a man with a maid. Hardcore folkies and heroes of the '60s folk-rock scene are all heard from. Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Martin Carthy, Maddy Prior, and Sandy Denny strut their stuff in solo story songs, modal laments, and nasal close-harmony sings. The women tend toward angelic sopranos or smooth, womanly altos, while the men favor a rougher, overtly masculine approach and thick, bucolic accents. Since many Americans share branches of race memory with the people of the British Isles, the songs on this collection often resonate in startlingly intimate ways.

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