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THE WILSON FAMILY - "Stocking Tops" - Pure Records PRCD51

No matter how many times I hear the Wilsons, the extent of their repertoire never ceases to amaze me - and this album is not exception. Most of their key influences are represented - the Elliots of Birtley, Graeme Miles, the Copper Family - and in a sense the album is a distillation of the family's live performances over the years, yet there are many songs here I have not heard them sing before, so it hasn't turned out as yet another 'greatest hits live' album.

Steve Rusby - who arguably knows their voices better than anyone, being responsible for the sound at most of their northern festival appearances - has done a great job in capturing the live atmosphere. Without the distractions that can enhance a full festival performance - excess of alcohol and lack of sleep being just two - there was always the risk that imperfections in their singing might be shown up. After all, they are the first to admit that their harmonies are intuitive rather than pristine.

But just listen to the relish with which they sing "Bonnie Black Hare", the intensity of "Horumarye" or the conviction of "Lost at Sea". This is traditional singing at its best.

The CD only arrived on my doormat two days before deadline, so I can't comment yet on whether the spoken intros - which have been known to last longer than the songs - but instinct says they have got it about right. Enough to give an idea of their spirit of performance, without becoming boring on repeated play.

If you are a fan, you will love this, and it sounds even better after a couple of pints. If you aren't, give it a listen.

The Wilsons have the same ability as their early mentors Peter Bellamy and Dick Gaughan, to take a song, make it their own, but leave it for others to make theirs as well.

And that's what the tradition is all about.

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 26 of The Living Tradition magazine.