Beautifully played and sung, illuminated by Martin Carthy's scholarly sleevenotes, Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man collects together festive songs. The Passiontide carols and May Day songs hark back to a lost past, while the Christmas songs link to the present, proving that the English's weirdly masochistic attitude to Yuletide - that it's something one endures rather than enjoys - has deep historical roots. For every jolly wassail or hymn like the beautiful closer Gloryland, there's something implausibly grim. On Christmas Day It Happened piles on the misery like an EastEnders double bill. Awake Awake could turn the brussels sprouts to ashes in your mouth: it alternates between forensic descriptions of Christ's wounds and hearty entreaties to have a joyful new year. The effect is deeply unsettling, like a sommelier waving a photograph of a cirrhotic liver around while he asks you if the Pouilly Fumé is to your liking.
CD:Waterson: Carthy, Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man
Alexis Petridis is the Guardian's head rock and pop critic