Lesley Garrett's A North Country Lass, released for St George's Day, celebrates our folk song tradition from as far back as Pastime With Good Company, by Henry VIII, to relatively recent fare such as the Welsh tune Suo Gan, dating from the early 1800s. “This album,” to quote the star adorning its sleeve, “is intensely individual and very personal and it will surprise you.” And Garrett’s words are worth keeping in mind as you read on.
The South Yorkshire singer’s soprano voice has changed little since she won the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 1979. Her sure technique is at the root of it, and that guarantees her exemplary tuning and extraordinary ability to produce a myriad of hues. Her voice sounds young and her attention to words is a great asset in these songs. Her operatic lineage is manifest as at the beginning of He Moved Through the Fair, but the abiding impression is of a voice where the purity of tone is always at the service of the line of the song.
More questionable, to this mind, is the concept of this CD, on which one too many overblown arrangements compete for attention. The sophisticated orchestration is sometimes a deterrent to enjoyment. Bloe the Wind Southerly has a surge halfway through in the accompaniment suggesting a film soundtrack. Fine Knacks for Ladies, written for lute accompaniment by John Dowland, might have been better as he left it. Other titles, like Suo Gan with its multi-tracked choral backing and Dance to Your Daddy with a newly composed middle section à la Riverdance, are along the same lines. He Moved Through the Fair and the song that gives the album its title show how it can be done. All Around My Hat, with an accordion introduction and the enthusiastic Crouch End Festival Chorus, goes with a swing – as does Pastime With Good Company, in a fun contemporary arrangement yet still evoking the Tudor spirit. The finale, On Ilkley Moor, arranged as an operatic spoof, is very entertaining, likewise Garrett's Gracie Fields take on The Collier Lad.
Lesley Garrett is such a charismatic singer that the thought crossed this writer’s mind that maybe this album should have been released with a DVD, too, for the full experience.
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window