Various Artists – John Barleycorn Reborn: Dark Britannica (Cold Spring/Woven Wheat Whispers)


JBR cover
Over the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in folk music in the UK. It’s impossible to know exactly what has prompted this, but I’ll hazard a guess. With the slow death of rock and pop music, the rise of X-Factor and Pop Idol-style TV shows, and dance music fast disappearing up its own fundament, discerning music lovers have been crying out for something real and meaningful. And this seems to have prompted an interest in artists whose influences extend beyond post-punk (hello Franz!) or the Beatles (wotcher Noel!)

John Barleycorn Reborn is an amazing collection of 33 tracks of new music from the UK’s dark/neo/wyrd folk underground. Curated by Mark Coyle of Woven Wheat Whispers, the set is themed around the old (dating back to the 16th Century) English folk song ‘John Barleycorn’. Part One is entitled ‘Birth’ and Part Two is ‘Death’. Highlights on the first disc include Pumajaw with the doomy, dirgelike ‘Burning of Auchindoun’; and English Heretic with the barking mad ‘Hippomania’. On Part Two there is the very wonderful Sand Snowman, with the dreamy ‘Stained Glass Morning’; and the gentle Scottish voice of the Kitchen Cynics beguiles with ‘The Guidman’s Ground’. But it’s unfair to pick out individual tracks, becuase there is so much good stuff on here – and the quality level never dips, which for a 33-track set is remarkable.

This collection is a real labour of love. A 20 page booklet with beautiful old woodcuts and short articles by various participants is included – and on top of that, there is a further 25 page PDF document available online, with full notes for each individual track. And did I mention that if you buy this 2xCD compilation, you are then entitled to download Part Three (Rebirth) for free – which features a further 33 tracks in MP3 format – taking this set to a whopping 66 tracks in total. I confidently predict that in future years, this compilation will bear the same relation to British folk music that the Harry Smith Anthology does to American folk music. This is more than just another album – it’s a significant cultural achievement.

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Ewan Burke


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