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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Sweet Liberties

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Sweet Liberties
Quercus Records QRCD002

Sweet Liberties is a timely album in a challenging period for parliamentary democracy. It was commissioned last year by Folk By The Oak and EFDSS, as part of Parliament In The Making’s commemorative events 800 years after Magna Carta and 750 after Simon de Montfort’s Parliament. Nancy Kerr, Maz O’Connor, Martyn Joseph and Sam Carter, supported by Patsy Reid on violin and viola and Nick Cooke on melodeon, have written 14 new songs inspired by the political and social journey which brought landmark legislation such as the Great Reform Act of 1832 , the National Health Act of 1946, and the Race Relations Act of 1965.

If this sounds dry, don’t worry. The songwriters, all at the top of their game, are more interested in ordinary folk than politicians. Land ownership, race, the fight to abolish slavery, working conditions, the emancipation of women and miscarriages of justice are prominent themes. Many songs are impressively nuanced, like Nancy’s Seven Notes which celebrates multicultural Britain in poetic words and bold musical form; or Maz’s This Old House which uses the metaphor of cohabitation to describe political progress through compromise. Sam Carter explores slavery in Am I Not A Man and the gospel-influenced One More River. I found one or two songs too oblique to be fully satisfying, and welcomed Martyn’s more direct approach. His song Nye, about Nye Bevan and the NHS, is the only one to praise a parliamentarian.

As Jo Cox reminded us, they are not all bad.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 116 of The Living Tradition magazine.