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CN of Sing Out USA

reviews Songs of Witchcraft & Magic by Various Artists

While most of the songs included on this compilation are fairly familiar to most folkies, putting them together in this way (with notes and illustrations from the intriguing Museum of Witchcraft, although more details on that institution, including more than a Web address, would have been welcome) is a masterstroke.

Taken together, they form a body of work that argues quite persuasively for magic and witchcraft as a force in the world. Many of the performers are unfamiliar, and a few are rather dry (Ruth Barrett's take on "Broomfield Hill" fails to capture the playful spirit at the heart of the song, for instance). But there are also outstanding cuts, with Martin Carthy typically excellent on "Willie's Lady" and Bob Fox and Stu Luckley breathing fresh life into "The Two Magicians." Of course, riddle songs fall into magic, and they're represented here by "Juniper Gentle & Rosemary," a variant on a Child ballad. What's especially fascinating is how deeply magic is interwoven into folklore and readily accepted, on a far deeper level than the fairies of Victorian image (the real fairies, or fey folk, weren't the gentle winged creatures of 19th century myth, by any means - listen to "Thomas The Rhymer"). A couple of the songs - the aforementioned "Thomas" and "Alison Cross" are strongly associated with vintage Steeleye Span, and it's a testament to those performing the songs here, especially Malinky, that they manage to overcome those versions to imprint their own personalities on the music. The odd one out here is "Nostradamus," from the pen of AI Stewart rather than the tradition, but Peter Bellamy's version puts the patina of ages on it.

A fascinating concept album that leaves you thinking.