OYSTERBAND - The Oxford Girl And Other Stories

OYSTERBAND - The Oxford Girl And Other Stories
Running Man Records RMCD6

From its beginning as an English ceilidh band in Whitstable, Oysterband has evolved into one of the most durably popular acts on the folk scene – headlining at festivals, establishing its own Big Session festival, and delighting dedicated fans with an ever-expanding songbook to illuminate our times and our paths. This is a thirtieth anniversary celebration. The 14 songs on this 52-minute CD have mostly been recorded before but have been re-appraised and re-arranged to reflect the group’s current musical direction, as heard on the acclaimed Meet You There Album released in 2007. There is less stomp, less shouty bombast, more acoustic instrumentation, gentler arrangements and more harmony singing.

In the middle of this album is something new to the band’s canon: What Wondrous Love Is This is a Sacred Harp hymn from the 1830s, sung unaccompanied with great vitality. It fits well. There is a devotional element to some Oysterband songs, pushing us to rise to our better selves.  Also here is The Soul’s Electric, one of their best-loved songs, described in the notes as a secular psalm. It’s delivered through harmony singing, clapping, and a simple violin accompaniment.

This isn’t a ‘Best Of’ album, but many favorites are here. By Northern Light, The Oxford Girl, After Rain (with a lovely strings arrangement by Alan Prosser) and the closing Put Out The Lights are all beautifully done. From the tradition comes The Lakes of Cool Flynn, with a simple acoustic guitar and harmonica accompaniment; and a jaunty False Knight Of The Road as popularized by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior.

This is a retrospective that manages to look forward. The songs are beautiful and  fresh, straight from the heart and soul. Some hardcore fans may regret the absence of angry, political stuff but few will doubt the quality of this leg of the band’s long journey. Veterans they may be, but Oysterband shows no sign of tiring. The drummer Lee Partis has left to become a prison counselor, but John Jones, Alan Prosser, and Ian Telfer (all there from the start) and Chopper (from 1988) march on.

Tony Hendry

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The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 84 of The Living Tradition magazine.