Shining Bright: The Songs of Lal & Mike Waterson
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Various Artists
Shining Bright: The Songs of Lal & Mike Waterson
Topic Records (www.topicrecords.co.uk)

This melancholy tribute album is a hit and miss affair, but then, aren't most compilations? Featuring much of the cream of the incestuous British folk-rock revival, it sheds a soft light on the moody, sometimes quirky songs of Lal and Mike Waterson. The highlights fortunately outnumber the lowlights and most of the songs get arrangements that suit their content. Linda and Teddy Thompson get it just about right on their rough-hewn rendition of "Evona Darling." The Eliza Carthy Band does a gently rocked-up "Child Among the Weeds" that doesn't sacrifice the lyrical or melodic integrity of the original. Christy Moore channels Nick Drake in his version of "Piper's Path." Maddy Prior and Richard Thompson rarely disappoint and they don't here on "Winifer Odd" and "Red Wine Promises," respectively. Dayteller does a beautifully evocative percussion- and oud-driven "Fine Horseman." The Wrecking Crew, a string quintet, adds some lovely touches on many of the tracks.

That said, the low points are surprising. Billy Bragg & the Blokes sound drunk and surly on "Danny Rose." Martin Carthy's voice on "Never the Same" grates against the art song arrangement. The CD is bookended with two different versions of "Bright Phoebus." The first is a brash brass band rendition by the clumsily named John Pashley's Phoenix New Orleans Parade Band. The second is a big, sloppy, nasal sing-along by Blue Murder (featuring Mike Waterson) that was probably a lot more fun if you were there. Neither one works.

The Watersons' writing, so quintessentially English and so finely wrought, set the stage for so much of what was to follow in British folk-rock. Its echoes still resound through the work of their friends, family, and followers. Shining Bright is an often brilliant, sometimes exasperating, tribute to Lal and Mike's legacy. - Peggy Latkovich

Available from cdRoots


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