This review is written by Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org, 11/02
Let me start this review by telling the general reader a few aspects about the MECHANICS of CD reviewing online.
Now, although “variety” is the watchword, certain things could be said to be a “given”. First, the album rarely arrives “out of the blue”. Usually, someone spots the reviewer’s e-address, and sends him an introductory note asking what the chances are of his/her album being reviewed.
Then the next stage is to send the CD. This is the CD in its “full glory”: i.e. usually in a jewel box, and often with liner notes. And sometimes with a handsome folder of publicity material.
This latter “bonus” does not, in the final analysis, influence my thinking. But I admit it does predispose me to LIKING the album (if only I will be able!).
Okay, let me stop myself there, and relate it to Robbie Byrne. Let us look at what happened at that first stage.
Well, Robbie wrote to me to ask if I would review his album. He gave me a general idea of the content, and I replied to the effect that I was happy to oblige.
So the first stage was passed with flying colours. But then came stage two. And here, I found things go a little awry.
The CD was delivered by my postman. Not only did it not come with a folder of Press Cuttings, it alas also came minus its box/sleeve, and with none-too-readable – and INCOMPLETE - b&w photocopies of the original cover/liner notes. No explanation as to the reason for this curious state of affairs.
Then came the clue perhaps. The disc shows “copyright 2001 RobbieByrne”. Here was me receiving the CD at the start of NOVEMBER 2002. So the penny dropped with me: he’d sold his initial stock and was left with a few surplus discs, but not the packaging to match. So, what better than put them to good use by getting a review online in a site like this: a site that gets ten times more readers than the review section of the most prestigious Folk print magazine?
What better, indeed! And whatever my prejudices, he obviously expected that I would be professional enough to give his CD a totally objective review: and I hope that having read the whole review, he will conclude that I have done just that. But it STILL is starting off on the wrong foot: it makes the reviewer feel that the PERFORMER does not take himself seriously, so why should his AUDIENCE?
And also he does not realise that a reviewer does much more than just review the DISC! The disc may well be 90% of the total experience, but the other 10% that is represented by the packaging/liner notes is vital.
It is like asking a movie critic to a review a film where the opening and closing credits have been chopped, and all promotional background data has been denied him!
True, Robbie did help his case by sending a nice letter outlining the work his band has been doing. And I particularly noted his address: he lives in a place called Walney Island, on the North West coast of England. I went there once 28 years ago, and went to an address in the aptly named “Ocean Road”. The whole place was unforgettable. It seemed like a Different World. Maybe, Britain’s TRUE “Land’s End”?
And all these years since, I have sought in vain to meet anyone who has been there. And now this letter and CD arrived out of the blue! Would the CD be as unforgettable as the place? I sure hoped so.
And what do you know? It really is rather good. But probably poor value: there are only 6 tracks and the running time is much reduced (needless to say, his indistinct and incomplete photocopies do not provide any timings!)
The band’s music seems a fusion of 70% trad British folk, and 30% New Age. Usual trad folk instruments: but the whole gamut in one, as there are TEN performers listed. A good, very full sound. The “sleeve” sent me, shows three vocalists, but does not say who is singing what. The voice that sings “Parting Glass” is really rather good. But, clearly the choicest cut is “The Foxchase”. Here their instruments capture the thrill/terror of the hunt quite brilliantly. I have never heard it done better.
I regret that I cannot list the six tracks since the photocopies sent did not include the back cover. By the way, Robbie asks me to send him the address of The Living Tradition (for whom I also review) so that he can send a review copy there too.
This I find curious since The Living Tradition has been going over nine years and is clearly Britain’s leading magazine when it comes to concentrating on traditional folk music from the British Isles and singers from the English-speaking world. Where’s Robbie been? Mars? (I know I said that Walney Island was a “different world”, but heck, not THAT different!)
But, save the postage stamp Robbie: no self-respecting print magazine will contemplate reviewing a CD that arrives in such an unattractive way.
Save your energies for a new album: one that builds on the promising work here. And one that is both professionally presented, and also providing the listener with at least 40 minutes’ playing time.
Then your reviewer won’t get distracted, and will be able to concentrate on the job in hand.
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