Magpie Lane - Six for Gold
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Magpie Lane
Six for Gold
Beautiful Jo Records (

cd cover Magpie Lane are a sextet from Oxfordshire with a slew of wonderful albums under their collective belts. You couldn't ask for a warmer, more vibrant sound; they truly give life to English country music. As the group incorporates a cello for some effective bottom, as well as recorders, it is not hard to envision the group as the sort of country dance purveyors that one might find in a staid drawing room. Thankfully, however, the Magpies dispel that assumption quickly. By comparison to classical groups that mine traditional English country songs (like the Baltimore Consort, or the Revels groups), the Magpie Lane approach lets the songs and tunes breathe and bloom in all their native wildness.

I have long admired the selection of tunes that grace each Magpie Lane record, as they usually find songs that are somewhat startling (on their excellent Christmas CD Wassail, for example, they offered a tale of a foxhunt from the perspective of the doomed fox). On Six for Gold, the songs this time around are more familiar, such as "John Reilly" (Listen!) "A-Begging I Will Go," and "The Constant Lovers." But Magpie Lane do not disappoint, because the vocal performances are nothing less than a treat. Ian Giles' voice is warm, and the man never overwhelms a song. Plus, this is one ensemble that enjoys sharing the singing: nearly everyone gets the spotlight, and all join in for harmonizing. Magpie Lane also boast not one wonderful female voice, but two: the twin threat of Marguerite Hutchinson and Sophie Polhill practically turn the group into the Steeleye Span of the country set. Sophie's treatment of "John Reilly" gets high marks for her sweet, clear singing. Pete Coe taught the Magpies "Juniper Gentle and Rosemary," Marguerite's lead being stunningly fleshed out by all.

It's great to see young Benji Kirkpatrick in the band, contributing both bouzouki and guitar work, and tying Magpie Lane to the groundbreaking work of John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris. But the whole group plays with such sensitivity that they are now setting the bar in the realm of traditional interpretation. Mat Green's fiddle work and Andy Turner's concertina wizardry adds further spit and polish, making this a great country dance music set for dancing and not just armchair listening. It all comes together on "My Old Hat That I Got On," with its use of three different dance tunes and "All for me grog" chorus. With Six For Gold, Magpie Lane has surpassed itself, trolling about their English heritage with relish and genuine delight. - Lee Blackstone

Sound samples and CD available at cdRoots

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