Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man

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Think of Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man as a theme album, a celebration of rituals of several kinds, from Mayday to wassail and beyond. It's a slightly different exploration of the tradition (with a few modern pieces that slot in perfectly), and one for which Waterson Carthy have added to the basic quartet, with vocal trio the Devil's Interval, percussion, brass and cello. Some of the songs are hymns, really, and others, like "Sugar Wassail" borrow carol tunes. Certainly there's an anthemic, grand quality to it all, even when Martin Carthy performs "Christ Made a Trance" solo. Some of the pieces are familiar, although definitely not standard, such as "Cherry Tree Carol" and "Diadem" (which is given the grand treatment here), while others are fresh, like the closer "Gloryland." Essentially, this is an epic venture, intelligently and thoughtfully put together. It expands the horizons of Waterson Carthy in a fascinating way, although it's really just an extension of what they do normally. But you sense the deep pleasure they take in the material, shaping and bringing it back to life. It's impossible to find any fault with this record; the arrangements swell with an elegant formality, the voices flow with passion and the songs are nothing less than gorgeous.

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