Various Artists – Topic Records: The Real Sound of Folk Music

Album Review | Topic Records | Review by Steve Henderson | Stars: 4/5

With both a new generation of folk musicians pushing the boundaries of tradition and a flood of singer songwriters clutching acoustic guitars and heading for a stage near you, there seems no better time for a record company to fling open its doors to a treasure trove of a back catalogue. So, it’s timely that Topic Records have followed the release of their Voice of the People box set with this two CD collection, Topic Records: The Real Sound of Folk Music, which contains some of their finest music.  On their way to the music hungry public are a range of CD introductions to their major artists too.  On the first CD, there are guitar pickers like Davy Graham with the truly iconic “Anji”, Martin Simpson with his own fine composition, “Never Any Good”, and Martin Carthy with the “Scarborough Fair” track that Paul Simon famously ‘borrowed’.  Exemplary songwriters with a social edge have their place with Dick Gaughan’s “Both Sides the Tweed” and John Tams’ “Unity (Raise Your Banners High)”.  Let’s not forget the women on this with well-known tracks from Shirley Collins, Eliza Carthy, Anne Briggs and Silly Sisters.  Then, there are the bands with both Pentangle and The Watersons putting in appearances.  The second CD digs deeply into the catalogue with Peter Bellamy’s “When I Die” and looks to the more recent “Man in The Moon” from The Full English.  It goes fully (Northern) English with tracks from Vin Garbutt and The Cheviot Ranters as well looking across the Atlantic with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s “Talking Dustbowl Blues”.  It also nods at folk music’s ability to draw the historical strings together with “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by June Tabor and Oysterband.  Whilst some folk fans will, no doubt, be familiar with several of the tracks here, each is a little gem awaiting discovery by those less familiar with the label’s output.  Those more familiar with these tracks may well be attracted by having so many favourites in one place.  Then, of course, there’s the fact that you should get these 28 tracks for under a tenner.  A bargain if ever I heard one.