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The Oxford Waits with The Mellstock Band
"Hey For Christmas" Beautiful Jo Records BEJOCD-31

This album is squarely aimed at the Christmas Market and consists of revivifications of Christmas broadside ballads to be found in the Bodleian Museum. Ranging from sentimental tear-jerkers, traditional material, West-Gallery carols and topical squibs, this shows how wide the range of Victorian Christmas music was. Consequently, there's something here for everyone - but it's unlikely that many people will like all of it!

The singing is generally good, with stand out performances from Caroline Ritson ('Remember The Poor' and 'Joseph Was An Old Man') and her duet with the excellent Ian Giles ( 'The Moon Shines Bright' ). The carols have all the vigour one would expect from these forces, whilst the parodies and more topical material feature some wonderfully rumbustious playing from the Mellstock wind section, imitating a 19th-century street band. The arrangements of these, however are so full, and the lyrics so wordy, that the singers struggle to be heard (especially at the brisk pace employed) and their effort to enunciate the words leaves them sounding rather middle-class. It's a shame, because a lot of effort has gone into this, but the material's musical interest is considerably lower than its academic interest. Finally, we have 'The Mistletoe Bough' and 'News From The River Of Thames' arranged and performed by classical harp and soprano (complete with vibrato) - excellent performances of execrable music. There is some excellent material here, which makes the CD well worth investigating, but also shows why some of the material had such a short life! PC users will find the CD enhanced with pictures of the songs used, and incitements to visit the wonderful Bodleian Ballads website at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ballads/

Paul Burgess

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This album was reviewed in Issue 41 of The Living Tradition magazine.