The Watersons

Mighty River of Song

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AllMusic Review by

Now this is a box set. The Watersons are the true first family of Great Britain when it comes to traditional Celtic folk music. This four-CD, one-DVD deluxe package is a grand overview of the various Waterson incarnations over a couple of generations. The box traces the careers of Lal, Mike, and Norma Waterson through their earliest groups, like the Folksons with Pete Ogley and John Harrison in 1964. "Blood Red Roses," is a performance from a live gig, and was previously unreleased. It is true that it's only a fragment of the song, but it does offer, even if just a snippet, a view of the entire Waterson universe as it was contained even then. The sound of straining at the margins is everywhere evident. Tracks from the Folk Songs of Britain: Songs of Courtship LP from 1965 and long out of print is here, as well as cuts from the Early Days and Frost and Fire albums also from that year, and Folk Union One from 1966. There are also cuts from Yorkshire Garland -- also out of print, and the TV documentary Traveling for a Living (the video of which is included in its entirety on the enclosed DVD). If anything, this single DVD is a startling overview of the range and ambition of the Watersons from the outset: there were no boundaries to the song collecting antics of Mike Waterson and John Harrison, and it is reflected in the wildly diverse traditional and obscuro offerings on this disc. Disc Two commences in 1974 with the first appearance of Norma's husband, the inimitable guitarist and vocalist Martin Carthy as a member of the Watersons, thus marking the group's most well-known lineup. There are several previously unissued gems here, too, including gorgeous readings of the "Pace-Egging Song," "Boston Harbour," and "Sweet William." Other cuts are taken from the classic For Pence & Spicey Ale, and Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy, and solo outings by Norma and Lal with Maria Gilhooley on True Hearted Girl, and solo offerings from Mike, as well. There is a plethora of unreleased live tracks here to round it all out. Disc Three boasts a wealth of live unissued tracks, though there are cuts from the reunion efforts Green Fields and Sounds of Yorkshire. In addition, there are previously unavailable solo cuts by Mike and Carthy, as well as an appearance by the group on Peter Bellamy's Both Sides Then outing. Finally, the last slab in this package turns its gaze on the final Hard Cash album, in addition to numerous festival, concert hall, and radio program visits by the group and individual members, and moves into more current territory with Norma's fine solo albums, the addition of Carthy and Norma's daughter, Eliza Carthy, to the group, and the formation of Waterson: Carthy and Blue Murder, which features all of the Watersons, as well as Lester Simpson. There are a number of solo cuts as well from Lal's beautiful duet with Maria Gilhooley on Ewan MacColl's "Just A Note," and Eliza's stunning "Stumbling On." In all, this box is almost too much of a good thing. It is wonderfully packaged with a fantastic set of liners by compilation producer and compiler David Suff, as well as a kind of oral biography not only told by the Watersons themselves, but by friends, family, and peers including Louis Killen, Christy Moore, Peggy Seeger, George Frasmpton, Bellamy, Anne Briggs, and others. There is also a poster that includes a complete discography, and the DVD transfer is brilliant. This is essential listening for any fan of British folk music, and the Holy Grail for the Watersons' fans. Along with the Shirley Collins box set, this is one of the greatest cultural artifacts of the last 50 years to come from the world of traditional music.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 01:28 Amazon
2 02:22 Amazon
3 02:41 Amazon
4 03:16 Amazon
5 01:39 Amazon
6 02:36 Amazon
7 02:36 Amazon
8 02:07 Amazon
9 03:21 Amazon
10 01:25 Amazon
11 03:31 Amazon
12 05:02 Amazon
13 01:42 Amazon
14 03:49 Amazon
15 02:57 Amazon
16 03:42 Amazon
17 03:17 Amazon
18 02:06 Amazon
19 01:58 Amazon
20 03:39 Amazon
21 03:26 Amazon
22 02:27 Amazon
23 03:04 Amazon
24 04:23 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 04:09 Amazon
2 02:46 Amazon
3 03:35 Amazon
4 03:14 Amazon
5 01:26 Amazon
6 05:01 Amazon
7 02:23 Amazon
8 02:30 Amazon
9 03:11 Amazon
10 02:37 Amazon
11 02:37 Amazon
12 02:22 Amazon
13 04:46 Amazon
14 02:18 Amazon
15 02:22 Amazon
16 03:22 Amazon
17 02:35 Amazon
18 03:24 Amazon
19 03:56 Amazon
20 03:17 Amazon
21
feat: Blue Murder
04:37 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 02:19 Amazon
2 04:34 Amazon
3 03:51 Amazon
4 03:04 Amazon
5 03:34 Amazon
6 02:00 Amazon
7 03:54 Amazon
8
feat: Blue Murder
03:13 Amazon
9 04:25 Amazon
10 02:27 Amazon
11 05:12 Amazon
12 03:03 Amazon
13 05:33 Amazon
14 02:00 Amazon
15 04:06 Amazon
16 01:48 Amazon
17 03:05 Amazon
18
feat: Eliza Carthy
03:38 Amazon
19 03:43 Amazon
20
feat: Blue Murder
02:53 Amazon
21 05:18 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1
Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick