Oysterband, This Is The Voice (EP) (Oysterband, 1999)

What can I say about the Oysterband that hasn't been said, and probably a lot better to boot, elsewhere on Green Man? I seriously urge you to check out our other reviews. For one thing, the reviewers handling those particular albums have to know more about the Oysterband than I do. Why? Because I'm ignorant in the ways of all things Oysterband.

That's not a bad thing. It means that I approached This Is The Voice with an open mind, uncluttered by expectations or previous encounters. I was able to address Oysterband from the viewpoint of the uninformed listener, and thus, I can safely say that these guys are good. Honest.

This Is The Voice isn't a full album. It's actually more of a sampler, containing a mere four tracks, two of which can also be found on the Here I Stand release from 1999. The other two tracks, about which I'll go into more depth in a second, are listed as being recorded and mixed in August of 1999, and are presumably new to this release.

If you really want to know more about Oysterband, I suggest you check out their website, as it does their history and talents more justice than I can. I knew they'd been around a while, and that people liked them, and that they were a British folk-rock group, but beyond that, I went in blind.

And loved every minute of it.

"This Is The Voice," the title track of this collection, is a charming, lively anthem, which opens with a simply beautiful a cappella treatment, and then launches right into the full band (plus friends!). That's right, friends. For this track, Oysterband collaborated with the group Chumbawamba, who provided shouting, trumpets, and additional vocals. Ah, good stuff. This is the track that really caught my attention, and held it.

"On The Edge" is another powerful tune, this one sporting a strong drum beat, lively cello, and vibrant mandolin, all to produce an enthusiastic whole. There's not much I can say, except that it's a lot more rock than it is folk, and that's not a bad thing, where I'm concerned.

"The False Knight On The Road" starts off subtly and quietly, but the instruments provide it with solid backing. Now, if I remember my lore properly, this is actually something of a traditional tune, but darned if I can remember which one it is, exactly. (Editors note: This ballad is from the Child Ballads, AKA The English and Scottish Popular Ballads of Francis James Child. Child found the only known printed version in Motherwell's Minstrelsy. The idea is that the devil will carry off the wee boy if he can outwit him. There is a Swedish variation in which an old crone, possibly a witch, is substituted for the false knight. Steeleye Span and other groups have covered this ballad. Neil Gaiman, author of Neverwhere and other works, wrote the words for Charles Vess' version of "False Knight On The Road" which can be found in Vess' Book of Ballads and Sagas.)

Finally, we come to "Funny Time of Life," which is exactly what it sounds to be. Cheerful, joyful, vibrant, playful, and just a little wry in tone.

As someone who's never heard Oysterband before, this came as a perfectly lovely introduction, and an incentive to try some of their other albums. I'd have to give This Is The Voice two thumbs up, and suggest that it be shared with other non-Oysterband fans, who can try it for themselves.