CD-ROM of the Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger book
with 155 MP3 sound recordings
Musical Traditions Records MTCD254
155 recordings from: Emily Baker; Willie Cameron; Charlotte Higgins; Jock Higgins; Caroline Hughes; Henry Hughes; Sheila Hughes; William Hughes; Ruby Kelby; Christina MacAllister; Wilhelmina MacAllister; John MacDonald; Maggie McPhee; Big Willie McPhee; Nelson Ridley; Maria Robertson; Levi Smith; Jeannie Thompson.Thank you for this excellent new release! More Gypsy/Traveller recordings are always a good thing, and this is no exception.
I'm really enjoying it, the song notes are very useful and the background information on the singers, their styles and Gypsy singing in general are fascinating. As for the recordings themselves, I already knew many of the singers and songs included here from other recordings, but there were still plenty of pleasant surprises for me.
If I had to pick a personal favourite it would be John MacDonald's Elfin Knight! All the Scottish versions of this ballad I've heard before were fragments, I'm overjoyed to finally have a full version of the song. The mention of the devil in the opening along with the somber tune really changes the feeling of the song, it's a fascinating contrast to the 'True lover of mine' versions and a topnotch performance from a singer I hadn't heard of before. As far as I know the only other version from oral tradition that mentions the devil is a Newfoundland version that Kenneth Peacock collected from George Decker of Rocky Harbour in 1959.
Another exciting new singer (for me) is Nelson Ridley, whose fragment of the Bramble Briar is carried by one of the finest traditional tunes I've heard in a long time. I also smiled when MacColl/Seeger pointed out how "pila cotia and salts of white mercury" become "sweet Billy Caution as I said to Marjorie" in his version of the Sailor Cut Down in his Prime - that's a lovely mondegreen. It reminds me of Harry Brazil's version of the song which displays a similar lack of understanding for this obscure phrase.
It's fascinating how Gypsy singers tend to preserve unusual words, even if they no longer (or never) understand their meaning.
I was also surprised when I heard Maria Robertson sing Son David, which I only knew from Jeannie and from Margaret Stewart. I didn't know that other family members sang it too. She sounds rather uncomfortable singing here (as MacColl himself pointed out), but it's still an impressive performance of an impressive song.
All in all, there's nothing to be disappointed of in this CD, it's a very worthwhile purchase!
Kevin Werner - 17.10.15