Here's what this CD is: a soundtrack to the central chapters of Rob Young's book of the same name. It's a wide-ranging, imaginative and hugely engaging selection of music that's in varying parts dreamy, introspective, scary and downright weird. Often simultaneously.
Here's what this CD isn't: a history of British folk or a history of British folk-rock, or a collection of rarities. However, other reviewers have tackled it as if it were, and marked it down accordingly. That's an injustice, and about as logical as criticising a detective novel for being poor science fiction.
Take this for what it is, and not for what someone incorrectly assumes it is or ought to be, and a rewarding listen is guaranteed. Young's book is a study of how certain British musicians take inspiration from history, landscape, folklore, and a certain ambivalence about progress and thus produce work with a certain - for want of a less hifalutin' term - visionary and mystical sensibility (it sounds pretentious, but as Young describes things, it isn't). His narrative starts with early 20th century classical composers, and ends up, via the likes of Kate Bush, Julian Cope and Talk Talk, at contemporary "Hauntology" artists.
In between, he sees the greatest flowering of this visionary music taking place in the folk-rock era, for obvious reasons. That's the period this CD covers. There's a mix of (comparatively) big names and virtual unknowns, and some tracks are relativey famous while others are desperately obscure. Compilations being what they, are each listener will have their preferred tracks and quality control can be variable, but this merits five stars because each track sheds some light on Young's key idea.
Because Young's discussing an aesthetic perspective rather than a plodding view of what is or isn't folk or folk-rock, it's entirely right and proper that the CD finds room for prog-rock and singer-songwriters working in the same general area as what's more consensually seen as folk-rock. If you're not appalled by the prospect of something that falls outside your arbitrary genre definition appearing here, but you like the general idea of Young's hypothesis, you'll find this CD stimulating, rewarding and, who knows, maybe even a little bit visionary.