While Ralph McTell is best known for his classic folk song of the down-and-out, "Streets of London," it's far from being the only string to his guitar. "Hesitation Blues," "Spiral Staircase," and the very dark "Michael in the Garden" all came from the same late-'60s period, and deserve equal stature as thoughtful, literate pieces in a time before it became truly fashionable. And they were just the beginning. "England 1914" is more than picture postcard nostalgia of a time and place, but a look into the hearts and minds of a country about to change beyond all expectations. The heart of McTell's inspiration has always been the blues, and he's repaid the debt often on record, so it's only fair that a collection should feature some of his best blues performances, including "Too Tight Drag" by his hero Blind Blake, a perfect illustration of McTell's guitar mastery (which has all too often been ignored), fingers running around the fretboard on a ragtime classic. McTell's tended to stand outside the frame of most singer/songwriters because many of his songs tend to be less personal that focus on characters, issues, and times. While the end result has possibly been a smaller long-term audience, the material itself stands up beautifully, work not only of feeling, but also craft, whether on the lighthearted ("Granny Takes a Trip") or the deep ("Daddy's Here"). As introductions to an artist go, this is nigh on perfect, hitting many of the high spots. But with a career that's kept going strongly into the new millennium, there must, inevitably, be a volume two.
AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson