This as a masterpiece. It works as a collection of varied traditional tunes, beautifully arranged by Hutchings' collaborator John Kirkpatrick, for a range of traditional acoustic and electric instruments and played with the greatest skill and verve, but also as an introduction to the history of traditional English dance music.
The songs have a framing device, which might perhaps put off the unprepared. There are 5 pieces of verse or prose performed by distinguished actors that relate directly or ironically to the pieces that precede or follow them. For example the lively dance tune, Trotto is followed by the puritan William Prynne's denunciation of indulgence in earthly pleasures, particularly dancing, on the grounds that it leads down the crimson path to hell. This in turn is followed by a hurdy gurdy tune, which seems hesitant, but somehow unabashed, before a rousing performance of Cuckolds All Awry by the electric band seems to say that it is the music, not Prynne whose voice persists. And perhaps by extension that in the face of eternity dancing is not such a bad response, in fact what better?
A mixture of the spoken word and music may not always work but, despite the 1 negative review I think very few would not find that in this case at least these short spoken pieces add to the enjoyment. I played my vinyl version of this pretty much to destruction, and never ever wanted to skip them. I am so pleased to find this favourite re-released on cd.
Some of the performances individually may not be greatly different from those found on other Ashley Hutchings projects. However the CDM is distinguished from them by the variety of the arrangements, and the quality of musicianship throughout. There are other records done with as much love, for example Pet Sounds or Sergeant Pepper, but fewer with such sustained clarity, purpose and intelligence. And probably none that convey such pure joy and pleasure.
If you appreciate traditional music with an electric flavour, or want an introduction to the English tradition, try this, (and then No Roses, with the wonderful Shirley Collins). If you give it a proper chance, you're unlikely to be disappointed.