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MAGPIE LANE - Three Quarter Time

MAGPIE LANE - Three Quarter Time
Private Label MLCD09

It seems as though Oxford’s Magpie Lane has been around forever, and yet they still have much to contribute, for every so often they produce another CD that delivers a fresh collection trawled from the traditional English dance tune and song repertoire. CD number nine is a case in point, being a further quintessential expression of Englishness and musical and vocal excellence.

Magpie Lane is a very fortunate group, for it boasts among its five-piece ranks not only a healthy spread of instrumental expertise (anglo concertina, fiddle, cello, whistle, bouzouki, guitars, banjo, mandolin and percussion) but also no fewer than four distinctive lead singers; all these elements are deployed imaginatively and with great success. As indeed are the guest musicians – including Jackie Oates, Paul Sartin, John Spiers and Jan Morter – who flesh out the texture at strategic points. The group specialises in unearthing little-known material and presenting unfamiliar versions of songs, and here the biggest surprise for many listeners will probably be the quite melancholy, slowed-down 3/4-time version of Rout Of The Blues done to a melody I’d not previously encountered. This, I hasten to add, does not mean that the entire disc consists of music written in, or arranged into, three-quarter-time – although, to be fair, that variety of time-signature does figure in a number of the 13 selections – Lovely Elwina, New Garden Fields, Andy Shanks & Jim Russell’s The Dancing … and the delicious coda to The Captain And His Whiskers, Sophie Thurman’s account of which arises out of a boisterous morris-style instrumental introit. Another surprise is that the rather jolly Dance Around The Gallows Tree is not a traditional broadside but an original composition by Ian Giles; its fabulous display of vocal layerings is continued on into the following track, the broadside Blow Ye Winds.

If you want a demonstration of just how vibrant, alive and feelgood English music can be, conveying the Spirit Of The Dance while maintaining a firm and respectful grip on the traditions it upholds, then you need look no further than this exhilarating disc. Its one and only failing is purely cosmetic – the unhelpful colour scheme for the rear-cover tracklist renders it virtually unreadable.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.