A Broad Abroad: Old English folk staples get a new coat of paint

Old Wine New Skins (Dusk Fire UK, www.duskfire.co.uk) is a 17-track collection of English folk staples, as performed by a clutch of new — or newly configured — performers.

Lucy Wainwright Roche’s impossibly pure, a capella “Barbara Allen” gets things under way. Elsewhere, names like the Devil’s Interval, Julie Murphy  and Sabbath Folk are woven alongside Shirley Collins, Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle, Robin and Bina Williamson and Barry Dransfield to create an album of implausible loveliness, while old staples “Long Lankin,” “John Barleycorn” and “The Banks of Sweet Primroses’ have fresh new life breathed into them.

Duskfire is also responsible for a reissue of the one and only album by Orchestra Luna, a piece of absolute madness released to largely baffled expressions of blankness and shock in 1974.

One of the most bizarre records ever unleashed by a major record label (CBS subsidiary Epic), Orchestra Luna was the brainchild of one Richard Kinscherf and producer Rupert Holmes and turns the whole rock-opera concept upside down by presenting itself as opera rock. But no “Bohemian Rhapsody” is this — it’s serious stuff, heavy stuff and, once you overcome the absolute aural dislocation of the ensuing hybrid, it’s one of the most inspiring reissues of the year.

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Steve Ashley is no stranger to Goldmine readers, and he continues to remind us why we should celebrate our acquaintance with the release of Time And Tide (Topic, UK — www.topicrecords.co.uk), a collection of 15 new songs that ranks among his most powerful albums yet.

From the opening “North West Wind,” through such evocative jewels as “The Drowning Cell,” “Pub carpets” and “This Old English Town,” Ashley’s characteristic blend of nostalgia, humor, challenge and optimism is firing on all cylinders, while his voice sounds as good as it ever has.

Backing support from the likes of Robin Williamson, Dave Pegg, Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie is as powerful as it needs to be, and anyone who thrilled to the live rendition of “Ships Of Shame” that helped highlight last year’s Live In Concert album will be blown away by the song’s studio recreation. This is a joy from start to finish.

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Another old friend arrives in the form of Affinity, a band whose actual lifespan barely topped one album, but whose archive has been yawning wide for most of the century so far.

Latest to emerge is Origins: The Baskervilles 1965 (Angel Air, UK – www.angelair.co.uk), a 32-track souvenir of the university band that spawned Affinity bassist Mo Foster. It’s rough-and-ready stuff — the recording quality can occasionally take its toll on the sensitive ear. But, the Baskervilles were scarcely any worse than 1,000 other bands cranking around the U.K. beat boom at that time, running through a repertoire of top pop hits and classic older chestnuts, while the University Christmas Ball audience is in great voice as well. Not an album to live with, but certainly a performance to love.

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The same label gives us a glimpse into the beginnings of another late 1960s legend, John Du Cann’s Andromeda. Beginnings 1967-68 rounds up the power trio’s first-ever recording sessions, 16 performances (including a couple of reprises) that set the stage for how the band itself originally viewed its music sound

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