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The Old Bush Songs
Larrikin LRF 354 CD (1994)
Reality RY 1002
A. L. “Bert” Lloyd, one of the guiding forces of the English folk scene from the 1950s through his death in 1981, had a deep appreciation for Australian songs. When he was a young man, his parents died, and he shipped to Australia in search of work. It was during his years there, living on sheep stations, that he first became interested in folksongs, jotting down the words to any song he heard in his composition books. Years after his return to England, he made several recordings for Topic Records that featured Australian songs. Larrikin has compiled some of this material into the CD The Old Bush Songs.
Lloyd's singing always had a tentative quality that is quite charming, and on this CD his high, creaky tenor dominates. He treats a variety of songs, from the quintessentially Australian Waltzing Matilda, Bold Jack Donahue, and The Kelly Gang to Australian versions of older British folksongs like Rocking the Cradle and The Derby Ram. Accompanists vary; on some tracks Alf Edwards' concertina and Dave Swarbrick's fiddle are the main instruments, while others feature Peggy Seeger's guitar and Ralph Rinzler's mandolin. In general, the experienced and professional musicians who back Lloyd do a fine job of providing the mostly upbeat, light and tender environments in which his singing flourishes. This CD is short, at only 48 minutes. Lloyd did record a number of other fascinating and funny bush ballads, notably an outback version of Seven Drunken Nights. For the sake of both interest and posterity, more of Lloyd's recordings could have been included.
One of Lloyd's protegés in the field of Australian song, and one of his backup singers on The Old Bush Songs, was a young Australian named Trevor Lucas. Lucas spent a lot of time in England under Lloyd's wing, which ultimately led to his marriage to singer Sandy Denny and his tenure in the group Fairport Convention. In the early 60s, however, he was just another hungry young man with a guitar. In 1965, he recorded Overlander, an album of Australian folk songs, most of which he had learned from Lloyd; indeed, at least seven of the 12 songs bear the stamp of Lloyd's touch, and four of these appear on both Overlander and The Old Bush Songs. However, Lucas' renditions are superior in one important regard - his voice, a magnificent rumbling baritone, was special in a way that Lloyd's was not. Even at the time of the Overlander sessions, he was clearly a potentially great rock, folk or country singer. For that reason alone, the CD reissue of Overlander bears listening. Most of the arrangements were crafted by Edwards, a veteran of many folk recording sessions, and are serviceable if not inspired. The only true down side to the disc is sound quality. The painful high end distortion and heavy background noise detract considerably from the disc's appeal. Overall, though, this is a fun listen, and should be particularly welcome to Fairport fans.
- Steve Winick (Philadelpha, PA)