Burning Bright: The Life & Times of Ashley Hutchings
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cd cover Burning Bright: The Life & Times of Ashley Hutchings
Free Reed (www.freereed.co.uk)

Any fan of English folk-rock will be well-acquainted with Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and The Albion Band (and the earlier incarnation, The Albion Country Band). Real fanatics of the genre will also probably cite Morris On, an album of electrified Morris tunes, as a favorite, ground-breaking album. Many English folk-rock fans would probably admit to worshipping at the altar of Richard Thompson, and diligently following the personnel changes in Fairport and Steeleye down the years.

The man who binds all of these classic milestones together is Ashley 'Tyger' Hutchings, 'The Godfather of Folk-Rock,' and more affectionately, 'The Guv'nor.' Burning Bright is a four-CD box set designed to provide an overview of the career of one of the most influential figures in English folk-rock history. And who better to undertake this mission than Free Reed Records? For the past few years, Free Reed has been releasing a wealth of folk-rock material in exquisite box sets. The Ashley Hutchings entry into the 'Revival Masters' series follows a similar presentation to Free Reed's Fairport Convention and Martin Carthy box sets: four themed CDs, bonus materials in the box, and a hefty book crammed with information and photographs. The Ashley Hutchings story, compiled by Nigel Schofield, is a hefty 156 pages!

I admit that I was a tad skeptical as to what music choices would be made for this box set, primarily because Ashley Hutchings himself had released many selections from his own private collection in the multi-volume 'Guv'nor' series. The sound quality varied wildly in that retrospective, and I was left wondering as to what possibly could be left. As it turns out there are treasures a-plenty in Burning Bright, although it should be noted that the collection of tracks in this set does differ in quality, which is not much of a problem for collectors, but could take the casual listener by surprise.

There is no question that it is amazing to hear "The New St. George" performed live by The Albion Country Band, circa 1972; and "Poor Old Horse," from 1978, with the band giving the tune their all. But the more I listened to the whole set, I became less concerned with the rarities on display. I believe that what Burning Bright is primarily about is context, and Free Reed allows us to see all the sides of Ashley Hutchings: the creator of musical 'projects,' the poet, the contributor to theater, the nurturer of talent. Burning Bright celebrates a very singular talent who revolutionized the world of roots music as we know it today. - Lee Blackstone

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