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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews Songs of Witchcraft & Magic by Various Artists

This well-filled CD is an unusual addition to the WildGoose catalogue in more ways than one, not least in that it's a compilation (produced in partnership with The Museum Of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall) whose contents have been licensed from existing releases, many on labels other than WildGoose. That fact alone would tend to fragment the disc's sales potential and provide a different marketing focus from the normal releases from that stable. Let's examine the mission statement printed in the liner notes, then: "This collection of songs reflects the significant part that magic has played in our culture. They connect with myths and folktales that take us back to the distant past, but they also represent a living and evolving tradition. The magic of these songs still exerts power over us today." No argument there as far as I'm concerned - it's an inviting prospect, and arguably sufficiently catch-all to be able to embrace some marvellous music and songs. Every listener would no doubt provide their own wish-list, but I honestly don't think that a significantly more spellbinding or enchanting (sorry!) selection could have been conjured from the catalogues. Sure, one could argue the toss about the actual versions or song variants used, or the interpretations, religious or otherwise, of the stated themes, but one cannot argue with the unstintingly high quality of the performances selected for this disc. Artistes of the calibre of Martin Carthy, Frankie Armstrong, Fox & Luckley (an uncharacteristic typo calls him Buckley), Craig Morgan Robson, Tom & Barbara Brown, Magpie Lane and Malinky for a start, with equally-billed supporting cast including Vivien Ellis & Giles Lewin, Ron Taylor & Jeff Gillett, Gill Berry, Hector Gilchrist & Liz Thomson... tempted yet?! Oh, and Peter Bellamy's magisterial Fair Annie rendition of Al Stewart's Nostradamus rounds off the disc - well officially, ie. before the bonus track (The Chase Song by Graham & Kerriann). The latter is one of just two tracks not drawn from existing releases (the other being The Bold Astrologer sung by Keith Kendrick & Sylvia Needham). And Ruth Barrett's recording of Broomfield Hill comes from a less-easily-available disc. The virtues of this exceedingly well-filled and satisfyingly sequenced disc are legion, not least the immensely attractive digipack presentation, which takes the form of a hard-cover book containing full texts as well as intelligent liner notes pertaining to the individual legends, lore or traditions within the songs. This bewitching disc which casts a powerful spell on a listener; I should foretell healthy sales figures.