Various Artists - John Barleycorn Reborn [Cold Spring - 2007]This highly enjoyable and varied double disk compilation of Dark English folk and beyond is named after one of the oldest know English folk songs John Barleycorn which was first written down in 1588. The 32 tracks enclosed mix both traditional, quirky and the avant-garde song craft, using traditional themes, melodies and instruments along side more modern elements to build their own tributes to England’s dark nature and it’s distinctive seasonal changers.
The two disks are subtitled Birth and death, following the season changers, festival and superstition's /old ways. John Barleycorn's story is told through the seasons in three separate tracks, there’s also a track about the Wickerman and various seasonal based pagan events and festivals. I think the thing that impressers most here and will surely appeal beyond the normal Folkie crowd is there’s little of twee/ sentimental, nice folk edger’s here- the tracks lyrics are full with macabre imagery, death and ill content. Musically there’s often the feeling of dread and sinister intent hovering even in the seemly tuneful, buoyant and merry songs- like death it’s self leering out through beautiful flower stems. It nice that most of the bands are unknown(to me at least) there's no Current 93 or Death In June, as one may expect on this type of thing. The discs comes with a sixteen page booklet full of short written pieces about dark folk,folk customs and England’s old dark nature in general. It’s a pity it couldn’t have been a bit longer to included the background behind each track- but this can be all downloaded in a 25 page PDF file from the projects site, along with a third disk of material too!.
As for favourite moments I have quite a few and there’s only three or four tracks here that doing nothing at all for me. Some of the many worth a mention would be;the opening rendition of John Barleycorn by The Horses of the Gods- with urgent acoustic guitars strum & banging marching drum work and joint folky vocals- all having a sinister insistent air about it . English Heretic’s Hippomania- with eerier/ weird sawing violin work and electronic textures, and later on electric guitar work, with disturbing spoken word dialogue detailing occultic ites around May day. Quickthorn – Pew Pew with its beautiful yet slightly creepy mix of harp and recorders and later on joint mournful male vocals. Venereum Arvum’s – Child 102: Willie and Earl Richard’s Daughter- which is husband and wife haunting rendition of an old ballard about Robbin hood- using joint male & female singing, drones, bells & drums, kemence, crwth & wood flute.
Certainly the most consistent and rewarding compilation to come along this year- wonderful packaged and put together - like all great compilation it has created a long list of projects I must hear more of.Roger Batty