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OYSTERBAND + OTHERS - The Big Session Volume 1 Westpark Music 87105

A couple of years ago I surprised my wife by suggesting that we go and stay at her mum's near Kendall for a weekend. As this was an unusual occurrence, she knew there must be another reason rather than just family visiting - and, of course she was right! It wasn't to visit a rather well known shoe factory either, but that The Oysterband were taking their Big Session to The Brewery Arts Centre and a rare chance to catch them, as I'd missed their previous performances at festivals. At the time I thought it was a brave venture, letting these young upstarts take centre stage, whilst the Oysters provided much of the backing. But what a night it proved to be -and well worth the stay at the 'outlaws'!

Instead of making a recording at these venues, as many as could, got together before an invited audience earlier this year - and this cd is the result. The idea was to create an after-gig session so singers chose the songs they wanted to sing, arrangements developed and people sang with others they had heard of but never recorded with. But who are these others?

There's Show of Hands; Eliza Carthy; Jim Moray; The Handsome Family; June Tabor; Ben Ivitsky and, of course, The Oysters. Others didn't make it onto the final CD, or to the recordings for a variety of reasons. As you would expect the material is quite diverse, from the wonderful Factory Girl with June and John on lead vocals to the rather quirky version of The House Carpenter featuring The Handsome Family. There is a lively Ten Thousand Miles featuring Eliza, who was, incidentally the star for me on that night in Kendall, whilst the two versions of 'Country Life' are just excellent. There are no tracks that don't please and it would be easy to mention all of them as they all deserve recognition.

A piece of work of this quality demands excellent sound, and it certainly has that. It is well packaged with a minimum of background information - I have to say though that I've struggled each time to fold the booklet so it fits back in, but Origami has never been my strong area!

Well done Oysterband for having the courage in the first place and for getting the others to make the project so successful. This CD has been released to coincide with their autumn tour of the Big Session. This time I don't have to stay at the Mother-in-Law's but can make the one closer to home in Leicester where I will be interested to see how The Big Session works in a larger venue. I can't recommend the live show enough because that is how The Big Session should be experienced, but if you can't get to one of the live events, then buy 'Volume 1' . better still do both.

Dave Beeby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 59 of The Living Tradition magazine.