Mediaeval Baebes,
Worldes Blysse
(Virgin Records, 1999)

I was sitting in my car at a traffic light, foot tapping, hands beating out an intricate rhythm on the steering wheel, body swaying -- I was seriously jammin'. The music was loud, the stereo at its limit. I glanced over at the car next to me and noticed two young boys watching me. One of them grinned and flashed some sort of signal (I'm pretty sure it was meant as a compliment) and started thrashing his head. Then they took off. I followed, bemused. I wasn't listening to the latest metal album, or any sort of rock album at all. I had the Mediaeval Baebes playing in my car.

Just who are the Mediaeval Baebes, you ask? A group of very talented women who perform, you guessed it, music from the Middle Ages. At least, I think it's the Middle Ages. (I'm not a music history buff.) Oh yes, they perform these songs in mediaeval English, too. They generously include the lyrics in their liner notes, because otherwise I wouldn't have a clue as to what they were singing about.

They combine their voices with drums, recorders, tambourines, dulcimer, hurdy gurdy -- a cornucopia of mediaeval instruments. Their music runs the gamut of sweet and sentimental love ballads ("love me broughte, and love me wroughte, man, to be thy fere, love me fedde, and love me ledde, and love me lettet here") to raucous tunes like "Ecce Mundi Gaudium," a whirlwind of voice and instrument that rocks with the best of them. "The Swete Sone" is a particular favorite, with a wild chorus, and a gentle refrain. And then there's the delightfully gothic "How Death Comes" -- "when my eyes get misty / and my ears are full of hissing / and my nose is full / and my tongue folds / and my face goes slack..." well, you get the idea.

Some of the music comes from the 13th and 16th centuries, but the majority of it is original. Perhaps this is a 20th-century version of mediaeval music, but it sounds authentic to me. Part of me does want to throw on some garb and find the nearest Ren faire, and this album would certainly fit the mood, but this is more than just background music for your next Society meeting. It offers a glimpse into a long-lost world, and serves up something old, yet refreshingly new and fun.

[ by Crystal Kocher ]

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