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Rubber Folk
Artist: Various
Label: GottDiscs ( www.gottdiscs.com)
Length: 14 tracks (43 mins) 
 
Sometimes you come across musical ideas, which are so inventive that you cannot help but get excited by them. This one celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles' Rubber Soul album. BBC Radio 2 folk anchorman Mike Harding has re-created the disc's whole track listing in the original order, but using the cream of British folk.
 
The Beatles' original marked the point where they had just begun to move outside of songs that dealt with love (“Nowhere Man” being their first such song) and were clearly influenced by the current folk/acoustic sounds of artists such as Bob Dylan and the Byrds. This all made it an ideal disc to be covered by today's folk artists, who re-invent its highly melodic ballads in their own styles.
 
Notably, the closer “Run for your Life” is given to Bellowhead main men Boden and Spiers, because their flair for singing about death and murder in old folk songs lends them the right to take on the threats inherent in the song.
 
Whether some of these versions are better or worthy would keep a pub talking for some time. It is a hard ask for these singers. Many of these songs have not only been covered many times and by some major artists, but some of these covers have become definitive (such as the Overlanders'  version of “Michelle” in the UK). 
 
Here that song is given to Ralph McTell, whose rich and resonant tones give it real gravitas. Some accordion and ukulele lines help to give it an atmosphere that brings out the frenchness of the song.
 
It is probably fair to say that how much you enjoy these covers depends largely on whether you see yourself coming from the Beatles angle or from the folk direction. For example, the originally delicate and melodic “Norwegian Wood” is given the Waterson-Carthy treatment. This rustic true-folk approach might come as a shock to those who love the Beatles version. However, if you want authentic styling, this sounds like it has come straight from a folk club singalong.
 
Coope, Boyes & Simpson's version of “Think for Yourself” is a more polished batch of harmonies, easily enjoyed by those with fewer roots tendencies.
 
The best is saved till near the end. June Tabor offers her smoky, earthy, hauntingly peppery vocals to “All My Life” in the way that has set her voice apart for years. What she does with the last line is almost otherworldly as it bends like a guitar note, pauses and hangs in the air. In a totally different way, Cara Dillon's perfect, light, skipping voice makes “Wait” just as entrancing. Then Show of Hands, one of Britain's most impressive bands, fuse tablas and fiddles on “If I needed Someone,” creating an Eastern feel that plays tribute to Harrison's writing, while keeping the original's distinct harmonies.
 
If this project suffers from anything, it is probably the weight of expectation that comes from mixing great songs and great artists. Jim Murray's opener disappoints, some tracks are controversial and some are ingeniously paired. As a project it is well worth checking out.
 
Derek Walker


 
 

 
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