The Mellstock Band's magnum opus, augmented by a trio of players on cello, percussion, and flute and a group of ten singers. Under the Greenwood Tree is a concept album, consisting of carols and dances from 19th century Wessex (also known as Dorset) that were known in the time of Thomas Hardy, the novelist who immortalized that part of the English countryside in books such as Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd. All of the material here is known to have been known by Hardy, and it has been restored to authentic period scoring and instrumentation by modern musicologists. The mix of songs and dances is compelling, almost hypnotic in its beauty and variation, as the record alternates between wild, raw, rhythmically driven reels and soaring carols. Even casual listeners will recognize the English variants of American folk tunes in a lot of this material, and the playing is as strong and enthusiastic as you'll find on the best Steeleye Span record, except it's all acoustic (which doesn't mean it's soft) and very disciplined. An ideal Christmas record for any English folk music buff, but also good listening any time of the year.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder