The Albion Band

Lark Rise to Candleford

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The loose aggregation called the Albion Band becomes even looser for this adaptation of Flora Thompson's classic of country life, Lark Rise to Candleford. It's a mixture of song and speech taken from a dramatic version of the story, staged in London, and essentially split into two pieces, "Lark Rise," which is set on a summer day, and "Candleford," which offers the contrast of winter. Time is very elastic, however, with "Lark Rise" ending with the enduring "Battle of the Somme," a tune about the enduring loss of life from that fruitless action which hit everywhere in England. The pieces, largely traditional, offer a real flavor of the rural life, whether it's something as simple as "Arise and Pick a Posy" or the eerie "Witch Elder," with some beautiful ghostly singing from Shirley Collins. It's not all idyllic, though; there's the conflict between Flora and her husband, John, who thinks her writing -- and books -- are a waste of time. But overall it offers a very accurate and moving portrait of village life in a time when everything was changing, from the traditional tunes, like "Speed the Plough," to music hall elements, such as "Scarlet and the Blue," and hymns, like "Jacob's Well," which round out the picture. Maybe it's not always happy -- Flora, for example, died lonely in her marriage -- but it's real and beautifully performed, with a sense of musical adventure in using the brass (which might have planted the seed for Brass Monkey) and the cream of the English folk-rock scene, under the direction of Ashley Hutchings, which makes an album that's utterly and ineffably English.

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