Artist: Various Artists
Album: Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl
Release Date: 10/30/2015
Although his name isn’t especially well known here in the United States, Ewan MacColl was one of the most prolific songwriters in Britain’s traditional folk scene. Nevertheless, two of his best known songs – “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Dirty Old Town,” made popular by Roberta Flack and the Pogues, respectively – have become international standards, covered repeatedly by a variety of artists and forever enshrined in the annals of popular music. The fact that performers as diverse as Flack and the Pogues would find success with his songs testifies to MacColl’s prolific prowess.
Clearly there’s much more to MacColl’s repertoire, and if nothing else Joy of Living, released on the hundred year anniversary of his birth, can testify to that fact. Granted, few of these songs, other than the two mentioned above, will resonate immediately with American ears– these are mostly hearty, trad tunes particular and unique to the British Isles. Regardless, there’s no denying the inherent beauty of songs such as “Freeborn Man” (rendered here by Paul Brady), “Sweet Thames, Flow Softly” (as sung by Rufus and Martha Wainwright) and the title track (performed by David Gray), three of the nearly two dozen tracks that adorn this touching tribute. While most of the participants are members of Britain’s contemporary folk scene, Steve Earle, the Wainwrights and Billy Bragg provide marquee value and will hopefully prompt those less familiar with MacColl’s material to sample these sumptuous melodies for the first time. A lovely and overdue tribute to the man many consider to be England’s Woody Guthrie, it offers a joy beyond measure.
– Lee Zimmerman