The Brazil Family: Down by the Old Riverside

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The Brazil Family: Down by the Old Riverside

Musical Traditions MTCD345-7, 2007. 3 CDs + 48pp. booklet. [pounds sterling]20.00.

The Topic LP Travellers has a particularly arresting cover: a large, close-up photograph of the Gloucestershire Gypsy Lementina (Lemmie) Brazil, the lines on her face bearing witness to her nearly ninety years. While CD covers are rarely as arresting as those of a 12-inch LP, advances in technology have made it possible for labels such as Musical Traditions to operate as cottage industries, making available to interested listeners collections like this, which would never be viable for a commercial record label.

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If Lemmie made a relatively minor contribution to that 1985 record, the tracks sung by her brother Harry are among its highlights. Some of these subsequently featured on the Voice of the People series, and more recently on the CD that accompanies the book Traveller's Joy (EFDSS, 2006). This set provides the opportunity to hear much more of Harry's fine singing, but also to hear it in the context of a family singing tradition. Here we have over three hours of recordings, featuring more than a dozen members of the extended Brazil family. There are a few of Mike Yates's late-1970s recordings, plus a handful recorded by Hamish Henderson and Peter Kennedy at the berry-picking in Blairgowrie in 1955. But the majority are from extensive collections made by Peter Shepheard in the early 1960s, and by Gwilym Davies in the late-1970s and 1990s. Shepheard and Davies (with Paul Burgess) both spent considerable time with members of the family, talking with them, befriending them, and recording versions of the same songs from different singers, or even from the same singer over a period of years. Unusually, these CDs feature multiple versions--as many as four, one after the other--of several songs. This approach works very well, as it allows the listener to appreciate both the differences and the similarities between the versions sung by different members of the family. In fact, while each singer naturally introduced melodic or textual variations, on the whole the similarities are far more pronounced than the differences.

Most of the singers featured on these CDs are brothers and sisters born in the decades either side of 1900. There are also several recordings from the next generation, and one--a charmingly crooned version of 'Barbara Allen'--from Harry's granddaughters Debbie and Penny Davies. …