Ashley Hutchings,
Street Cries
(Topic, 2001)

Ashley Hutchings doesn't believe that traditional music can't change with the times. Sure, there will always be room for faithful reproductions of the old songs in the old style, but Hutchings is helping to ensure that even the oldest songs remain fresh and exciting for modern audiences.

Street Cries is a stunningly good example of the ways in which timeworn verses can gain new life. Hutchings, who carved his place in the British folk tradition with bands including Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band, has collected a dozen "dark traditional" songs and rewritten them in current settings.

Extensive liner notes to the album include lyrics to Hutchings' new songs as well as the traditional pieces that inspired them. It's fun to compare -- in quite a few cases, you can see Hutchings ran with the barest nut of a theme to create something very original. Thus, "Gaol Song" becomes "Doing Time to Fit Your Crime," "Adieu, Adieu" becomes "Damn the Day," "My Bonny Boy" turns into "He's Young But He's Growing," "Salisbury Plain" evolves into "He Ran Out of Road," and so on.

Hutchings has brought in a fine array of singers to support his efforts here, including Cara Dillon, Dick Gaughan, Pete Morton, Kathryn Roberts, John Tams, June Tabor, Helen Watson and more. The rotating singers add variety to the collection, making the album much more than the sum of Hutchings' talents alone.

Most importantly, the rewritten songs work. The album never comes across as a mediocre rehashing of old material. This stuff is raw and contemporary, a brilliant reworking of timeworn folk classics into a modern environment. There's nary a stumble on this disc.

It's this sort of innovation that will prevent the old songs from ever becoming trite or stale. Kudos to Hutchings for taking the bold initiative to do the job, and the talent to do it well!

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 7 June 2002

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