Subtitled "Four decades of the very best acoustic folk music from the British Isles," this four-CD, 85-track boxed set is indeed that, with credit due to the venerable U.K.
Subtitled "Four decades of the very best acoustic folk music from the British Isles," this four-CD, 85-track boxed set is indeed that, with credit due to the venerable U.K. indie label Topic, home to many of the featured artists. The all-encompassing compilation—one decade per disc—informatively documents the folk-music revival that began in the mid-'50s with seminal British "skiffle" artist Lonnie Donegan's lively reading of the American folk staple "Jack O'Diamonds"—a top 20 U.K. hit in 1958 that helped usher in the hugely influential '60s British folk scene. The rest of the first disc is simply one revelation after another, featuring such widely recognized legends as Ewan MacColl, the Dubliners, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, and the Incredible String Band. Lesser-known in the U.S., perhaps, but equally noteworthy are family group the Watersons and solo artist Martin Carthy, who married Norma Waterson (their daughter, Eliza Carthy, carries on the tradition and closes the set with her 1998 Topic track "10,000 Miles"). Also represented is Anne Briggs, whose compelling a cappella "She Moves Through the Fair" verifies her predominant position in the pantheon of British female folk artists. As the photograph-laden, info-packed 56-page booklet points out, the '70s brought a similar introversion to the lyrics of British folk to those of the American singer/songwriters who emerged from the corresponding stateside folk scene and also showed resurgent interest in English country-dance music. Among the represented names from this time that resonate with U.S. audiences are Pentangle, Maddy Prior, and the Bothy Band; the '80s disc evokes the updated traditionalism of the period as manifested by the storied likes of the Battlefield Band, Brass Monkey, Richard Thompson, Patrick Street, Altan, June Tabor, and the "rogue folk" English Country Blues Band. Emerging in the '90s was a new generation of singer/songwriters exemplified by Billy Bragg, Kate Rusby, and Eliza Carthy, along with such modernized groove-oriented dance music practitioners as Scottish "roots" band Shooglenifty. English folk music, again like its U.S. counterpart, had managed to successfully transcend its deep roots and continue into the next century in robust health, as evidenced so amply in this boxed set. Distributed in the U.S. by City Hall Records.—JB