Oysterband and Various Artists - The Big Session: Volume 1
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Oysterband and Various Artists
The Big Session: Volume 1
Westpark Music (www.westparkmusic.com)

cd cover The Big Session is a project spearheaded by some of the most popular names in U.K. folk, a relaxed outing where the amassed talent get to tackle songs that they want to sing. Volume 1 of these special sessions features some incredible talent indeed, with the big-band sound here provided by the Oysterband, who sound in fine form indeed on a rocking "John Barleycorn" and their staple "We Shall Come Home" from their Holy Bandits era.

June Tabor appears in all her dusky darkness, singing a harrowing "Lowlands" over the low drones of James O'Grady's uillean pipes. Harkening back to her partnership with the Oysterband on 1990's Freedom and Rain recording, we get a beautiful reading of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," John Jones and June both sounding oh-so-fated by love's despair.

Other pleasures are provided by Show of Hands, the immensely popular duo of Steve Knightly and Phil Beer. Their "Country Life" sounds cheerful enough, but exposes the less savory aspects of rural England with a spot-on realist view of poverty and failed dreams: a theme that Show of Hands have continually visited over the course of several albums. Eliza Carthy is in tremendous form on her own "Fuse," as well as her ubiquitous "Ten Thousand Miles/Hungarian March." Jim Moray's devilish take on "The Cuckoo's Nest" is as dark and dreamy as the song deserves, certainly exciting enough to create more buzz around this winner of the 2004 BBC award for best newcomer.

The Big Session is not all U.K. luminaries, as cult American alt-country performers The Handsome Family (Brett and Rennie Sparks) lend "When That Helicopter Comes" and "The House Carpenter" to the proceedings. I must admit that the Handsome Family sounds a bit out of their element here; Brett's vocal on 'Helicopter' is a bit forced for my tastes, but Rennie's lead on "Carpenter" is pure old-school country.

Two group a cappella songs grace the CD, and the show closes with the stately "Cornish Farewell Shanty." It's a beautiful end for a program that depicts folk music at its healthiest and rife with exciting collaborative efforts. With any luck, a Volume 2 must be waiting in the wings. - Lee Blackstone

Available from cdRoots

Oysterband web site: www.oysterband.co.uk

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