Budget sets like this are almost always frustrating in one way or another, and this Anthology of English Folk is no exception. You pay a ridiculously low price for a wealth of music, and then are given almost no context in which to place said music. What if I was a complete newcomer to this music? I would have to take their word for it that, say, the 11 minute prog-rock epic "Kings and Queens" by Renaissance is actually "English Folk Music".
The first 2 cds are what you might expect from an anthology, bouncing all around from Rennaisance Fair-esque music to straight-up rock (of ALL the Richard Thompson tracks they could have chose, they pick the electric "Time to Ring Some Changes". He's got DOZENS of actual acoustic folk music tunes, and they pick THIS?). Most of this you'd consider folk music... pastoral, haunting, stirring. Several a capella tracks, including a heart-wrenching "The Flying Cloud" sung by Louis Killen. You get Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick, Albion Band, June Tabor, Ewan MacColl, John Tams, Oak, Tarras, and others. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? WHEN DID THEY RECORD? ARE THEY OBSCURE, OR AT THE TOP OF THEIR FIELD? There's nothing here to tell us.
Discs 3-5 include several tracks each from Steeleye Span, Lindisfarne, Renaissance, Tim Hart/Maddy Prior, Fairport Convention (MAJOR disappointment on these FC tracks, live ones that sound almost like they're an electric American zydeco band), Sandy Denny, Incredible String Band, Shirley Collins/Albion band, Amazing Blondel, Magna Carta.
The compilers of this anthology MUST have had some kind of access, at the very least, to WHEN these songs were recorded or copywritten. To my ears, though, it sounds like it doesn't go back earlier than the '60s and probably ranges up into the '90s. What's so hard about providing recording dates? All of CD5 appears to be live tracks from 2 different bands from the same performance... what was it?
Then there's the matter of the song selections, like the RT song and the Fairport songs.... and others, I'm sure.... perhaps the compilers knew that, say, Fairport Convention was "big" in the English Folk world, but they couldn't get the rights to use representative tracks, so they grabbed what they could find, "genre" be damned! That's a shame, and renders this comp perhaps not the best place to start understanding English Folk.
Also, several photos were shown in the booklet, but guess what? No captions saying who was IN the photos! Doh!
Anyway, if I dug deep enough on-line I'm sure I could come up with a more complete picture of this music. But that's the compilers' job, isn't it?
But when it comes down to it: you just can't beat the price. 3 stars overall, but 4th star is for the great price to music ratio!