March 2000

Various Artists
North Umberland Rant: Traditional Music From the Edge of England
Smithsonian Folkways

Going to the country in England is really going somewhere, to green ex-urban spaces where the cultural values shift away from the cosmopolitan pulse and time steps blissfully backwards. Or so goes the impression, supported by releases like the spirited new Smithsonian Folkways CD, North Umberland Rant: Traditional Music from the Edge of England (Smithsonian Folkways 40473; 64:05), recorded between 1954 and 1998. The music from this fringe territory of Northumberland, made on the special bagpipes known as smallpipes, bears a natural finial resemblance to Celtic neighbors and Scottish bagpipe music, but with a timbral and cultural difference: it's a joyful noise that spills out of the smallpipes, in fanciful melodic frills over a drone, or solo fiddle tunes played as if propelled and supported by an invisible band. We get evocations of soggy verdant fields, and of folkloric culture blissfully removed from this year's models of fashion.

Originally published in March 2000

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