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MIKE WATERSON "Mike Waterson" Topic TSCD516
LAL & NORMA WATERSON with MARIA WATERSON
"A True Hearted Girl"
Topic TSCD507

More blasts from the glorious past from Topic, both released originally in 1977 - so they're inextricably linked by family ties, timing and musical spirit.

Mike Waterson has always been one of the great interpreters of English song, building more directly on the foundations laid by the source singers from whom the songs came than most of the revival's other heroes. Bert Lloyd's original sleeve notes comment that Mike's voice is something that you learn to love and appreciate "once you're used to it". Don't misunderstand - it's a voice that's accurate and has a pleasant gritty sound. It is, however, in no way polished. Perhaps that's why it sounds so absolutely correct on these songs and why these interpretations get right to the soul of the song (tragic, light or plain silly).

In common with those regarded as sources, Mike also includes music-hall and parody in his repertoire - any preciousness about traditional purity is cast aside. When he does tackle a big ballad, however, (there's a truly mighty "Tamlyn" here) he's completely convinced and convincing and his true musical heart is on his sleeve.

Two of the fourteen (unaccompanied) tracks here are taken from the Watersons' 1966 "Yorkshire Garland", not yet available on CD - so very welcome. On several, the rest of the Watersons join in - so the whole thing has a feel of a family party, with Mike as the star performer ... which is probably what it was. My only regret is that, as far as I know, Mike has no other solo work recorded since and none is planned. Any chance of levering him out of a far-too-early retirement, Topic?

The release of "True Hearted Girl" is tinged with the same sadness as was that of Lal's last "Bed of Roses" with her son Ollie Knight. Sadly missed as a great and highly-individual songwriter, a passionate and powerful singer and a huge character, Lal Waterson was and is a major figure in folk music. Here we have Lal, with the inimitable and priceless Norma, joined by Lal's daughter Maria on just under half of the tracks and by a certain Liza on a 1998 recording of the Waterdaughters ("John Ball" - worth buying the CD for this one alone!).

Bob Davenport's insight in the sleeve notes was extraordinary. "It is possible that ... Liza may become a professional performer in another area of music" he wrote in 1977. Indeed! Bob also noted what is still true - that the Watersons' direct, unpolished style may not suit those who like "shiny" music - but for those who react emotionally, as opposed to analytically, this is the stuff of which emotions are made and broken.

Taking as an example the unaccompanied Lal/Norma version of "Flowers of the Forest", we have harmonies constructed on the hoof ("if you don't feel like singing the tune, sing something else", as Lal put it in an interview!). Large chunks are sung in unison. The effect is natural, rivetting and more moving than any version of that song I've heard anywhere.

This collection includes another from "Yorkshire Garland" (Topic are serialising it - the "Early Days" CD includes a further 10!), a few squeezy sounds from Rod Stradling and Tony Engle, fiddle from Peta Webb and flute from Jim Eldon. I could dribble on. I simply love this stuff. It moves me, it stirs me and it inspires me. Commitment, passion and raw musical talent on this scale are humbling. Am I going over the top? Undoubtedly, and I don't care.

Alan Murray

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This album was reviewed in Issue 38 of The Living Tradition magazine.