Various Artists

Strange Folk

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Strange Folk is an enjoyable if genuinely spaced-out 19-song collection, all representative of a body of English folkies from across four decades who didn't care one whit about maintaining traditions or otherwise adhering to rules. Not surprisingly, Donovan (doing "The Song of the Wandering Aengus" from HMS Donovan), Pentangle, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Vashti Bunyan, Barry Dransfield, the Incredible String Band, and Forest will be the most familiar names here, their work comprising the most accessible tracks on this CD -- others are of more recent vintage, including the psychedelic-folk ensemble the Espers, and the progressive folk/electronica-based septet Tunng (utilizing some more calculated studio- and sound-effects generated accompaniment), and they're only slightly less appealing. There's also one delightful surprise here for fans of the movie The Wicker Man in the form of "Maypole," the fertility hymn sung by the children in the film, composed by Paul Giovanni and credited to Magnet -- it's followed by the Eighteenth Day of May doing their heavily Fairport Convention-influenced "The Highest Tree"; they and the Espers (who were still a trio on their contribution to this CD) make more-than-adequate stand-ins for Fairport. And therein lies the most enjoyable aspect of this collection -- the older artists involved may have been ignoring traditions in their way of approaching the music or their subjects, but they were, in turn, establishing and following new traditions with what they were doing, and laying the groundwork for a new branch of British folk music. The CD is a reminder that the British folk revival scene, for all of its seeming staid early nature, was more open to experimentation than its American counterpart, which remained rather insular and never really had a progressive wing. The sound is excellent and the annotation is reasonably informative, though the type-face font is so small on the section devoted to the individual tracks, that you'll need a magnifier to make any sense out of the text.

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