The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Mahir Ali

Joy of Liv­ing: A Trib­ute to Ewan MacColl Var­i­ous artists Cook­ing Vinyl

There is a risk of cheesi­ness as­so­ci­ated with such ven­tures, when a ven­er­a­ble mu­si­cian’s off­spring take it on them­selves to cu­rate a trib­ute. But, to their credit, Neill and Calum MacColl swerve ef­fort­lessly past al­most ev­ery po­ten­tial pot­hole in this dou­ble-al­bum tes­ti­mo­nial to the song­writ­ing legacy of their dad, Ewan MacColl, the cen­te­nary of whose birth has been marked this year with a se­ries of crit­i­cally ac­claimed con­certs as well as this record­ing. The sons have not only pro­duced this al­bum but also turn up as in­stru­men­tal­ists on most of the tracks, along­side dis­tin­guished mu­si­cians rang­ing from long-term MacColl devo­tees such as Dick Gaughan (who back in 1978 recorded the out­stand­ing Songs of Ewan MacColl with Tony Cap­stick and Dave Bur­land) and Christy Moore, to next-gen­er­a­tion stal­warts in­clud­ing the Un­thanks and Ru­fus and Martha Wain­wright. MacColl was one of the more lu­mi­nous stal­warts of the Bri­tish folk re­vival, widely ad­mired as a singer-song­writer but also deeply re­sented among some for his Stal­in­ist ap­proach to cul­tural tra­di­tion and ren­di­tion style. Luck­ily, he did not con­sis­tently abide by his own dik­tat, leav­ing be­hind a di­verse body of recorded work when he died in 1989. One of the last songs he wrote and recorded was The Joy of Liv­ing, a poignant farewell to the peo­ple and places he loved. The trou­ble with tracks such as this is that MacColl’s ar­rest­ing vo­cals and dis­tinc­tive style prove to be a chal­lenge for overly re­spect­ful cover artists. That is not an is­sue for the likes of Gaughan (who per­forms Jamie Foy­ers, cel­e­brat­ing an In­ter­na­tional Brigades vol­un­teer in the Span­ish Civil War), Moore ( The Com­paneros, a cheer­ful nod to Fidel Cas­tro and his band of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies), Billy Bragg ( Kilroy was Here) and Steve Earle (who tack­les the much cov­ered Dirty Old Town), each of whom puts his own stamp on the song in ques­tion. Nor does it mat­ter for the four mem­bers of the Water­son-Carthy clan, who con­trib­ute in­di­vid­u­ally to this wor­thy project. Paul Buchanan, mean­while, de­serves a spe­cial men­tion for tak­ing on The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face with an elan that owes lit­tle to the fa­mil­iar ver­sions of this Grammy-win­ning song recorded by Roberta Flack and Peggy Seeger — the lat­ter, mother to Neill, Calum and Kitty MacColl, be­ing Ewan’s muse in this par­tic­u­lar con­text, as well as his long-term artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tor and part­ner in life. It is no sur­prise, mean­while, that nearly half of the 21 tracks here come from the strik­ing Ra­dio Bal­lads that MacColl, Seeger and Charles Parker recorded for the BBC in the late 1950s and early 60s, no­tably The Trav­el­ling Peo­ple, an au­dio doc­u­men­tary on Bri­tain’s gyp­sies. More broadly, ku­dos­wor­thy con­tri­bu­tions from Karine Pol­wart, Kathryn Wil­liams and, un­ex­pect­edly, Jarvis Cocker add to this al­bum’s sta­tus as keeper, even though it ex­cludes sem­i­nal MacColl songs such as The Manch­ester Ram­bler and Bal­lad of Ac­count­ing.

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