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VARIOUS ARTISTS Dog Days, Devil Fish and Darkest England double LP (Thames Delta Recording Co)

Double vinyl compilation LP released to commemorate 25 years of the Leigh Folk Festival. Comes packaged in a lavish gatefold sleeve with artwork by Dom Cooper of The Owl Service and The Straw Bear Band, and extensive liner notes; a download code is also included. The album is both a retrospective of artists who have appeared at the festival over the years, and a showcase for those who are new to the festival, having first appeared there this year. Many of the tracks are unreleased elsewhere, some recorded specifically for this project.

Rob Harbron and Emma Reid provide a medley of concertina and fiddle tunes with a strong traditional influence. The Owl Service appear with their beautifully atmospheric and moving psych-folk interpretation of Sweeney's Men's Standing on the Shore. Alasdair Roberts contributes a piano-accompanied battle ballad, Jamie Foyers. Lost Harbours' Lake is dark contemporary folk, both ethereal and impassioned. Alex Rex, aka Alex Neilson, is best known for his work with Trembling Bells, but here he eschews folk in favour of a kind of absurdist and frenetic punk-prog-free jazz hybrid. Jason Steel provides a dual part piece inspired by the witch trials, taking in bleakly evocative, folk-horror-esque instrumental music and dark, banjo-led folk inspired equally by raw early country and medieval balladry, and having much in common with Stone Breath or Trappist Afterland.

Famed Steeleye Span fiddler Peter Knight joins saxophonist Trevor Watts, formerly of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, for the atmospheric folk-jazz instrumental On Reflection. Estuary Song Writing Project is a collaboration of eight musicians including amongst them Alasdair Roberts, Kate Waterfield, Roshi Nasehi, and M. G. Boulter. Here they appear with a sophisticated multi-part piece incorporating gentle, relaxing harp and an atmospheric, dreamlike a cappella section. Emily Portman makes inventive contemporary folk, combining traditional influences with new, talented ideas. Her song here, Fine Silica, is simply superb. Dark Globes appear with a country-rock version of Bert Jansch's Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning, with plenty of twangy vibrato guitar and a psychedelic intensity. Dark Patrick are an Anglo-Ukrainian duo who appear here with an appropriately chilling version of Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom. Their innovative combination of trad folk, psych and avant garde influences has left me keen to hear more from them.

Danny Pedler and Rosie Butler-Hall appear first with a great rendition of the shanty Bold Riley, the minimal accordion accompaniment giving way to fiddle as the piece segues into the traditional Scottish piece Charlie's March. Oliver Cherer contributes the lively, bouncy modern sea shanty Holloway, which is a lot of fun. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker appear with a great rendition of the traditional murder ballad The Outlandish Knight. The Diamond Family Archive contribute the dark, evocative and inventive drone-folk piece Wren Sailing Girls. Philip G. Martin aka Drohne makes The Velvet Underground's All Tomorrow's Parties sound convincingly like a folk song, with a medieval-esque, hurdy gurdy driven arrangement that is truly excellent. Laura Cannell's Deus Enim is an intense fiddle improvisation based around fragments by medieval composers Hildegard von Bingen and Guillaume de Machaut, and having shades of the more traditional side of Norwegian fiddle music at times. M. G. Boulter appears with a melancholic acoustic singer-songwriter piece, before the album closes with the sound of curlews on the estuary.

A well-rounded and impressive compilation covering the breadth of the current British folk scene, ranging from strictly traditional to more experimental interpretations. Very highly recommended - find out more at www.leighfolkfestival.com

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Text Kim Harten, 2017.