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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Fairport Convention - 'House Full' (Hannibal)

Here's one I got for free somehow, which is a live recording of the 1970 Fairport lineup, post-Lamble, post-Denny. Just five guys trying to make the best of their iconic vocalist's departure. The liner notes, written by Joe Boyd in the 60s, are somewhat dismissive of the Full House album and of later Fairport in general (referring to a 'long, slow, sometimes ungraceful but always spirited decline'). But he insists that this 1970 band was a tight unit, not captured on the studio recording, and thus this live gig from Los Angeles in September 1970 is presented to support his argument. It's a good live recording - a bit lacking in the low end, but this is a CD after all - and the 'reluctant vocalists' Thompson and Swarbrick (again, Boyd's words) sound pretty confident to me, especially on 'Banks of the Sweet Primroses' where they exude a casual confidence which sounds striking, or maybe I just like English accents. The band is overall playing a bit fast, or at least with a spring in their step. The instrumentals are particularly fierce - 'Mason's Apron' sounds like something off Camper Van Beethoven's second album, and the climax of 'Matty Groves' never sounded better. As a band, the material has shifted really strongly towards the 'folk' in 'folk-rock' (which is a nice juxtaposition with the Heyday CD we just listened to) and also leads to more extended meandering solos by Thompson, which are always welcome. He seems to just stick some extra notes in hidden places, here and there, and it's a casual grace that he masters when he starts making solo records a few miserable years later. The centerpiece, of course, is 'Sloth' - I've already proclaimed my love for this song elsewhere, and that remains on this version, if it isn't amplified. The fierce buildup about 8 minutes in is even more aggro than the studio version, and the raw live edges are perfect for the come down, when Swarbrick starts to delicately pluck the violin strings around the cadence. It's like he's trying to tease the beast of a melody into revving up again and it works wonders. I love this song and even though this lineup of Fairport is slightly lackluster,  I can't imagine 'Sloth' with Sandy Denny -- the sense of resignation and frustration is distinctly male. The closing cut, 'Battle of the Somme', is delicate in a way that it feels out of place, especially after 'Mason's Apron', but maybe that's just my own itchy nervousness coming into play.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Fairport Convention - 'Heyday - BBC Radio Sessions 1968-69/Extended' (Island)

Heyday was Fairport's album of radio sessions from the early era of the band, but not the earliest - it's all Sandy Denny here, sans-Dyble, and while they were theoretically writing material like 'Meet on the Ledge' and recording albums as great as Unhalfbricking, this collection shows them cutting loose and mostly delivering rave-up cover versions. If Fairport was folk-rock, this shows that the rock came first; the only British traditionals appear as the bonus tracks, though this CD is all about the bonus tracks. I actually had the original Heyday CD, which was only the first 12 cuts here, and then upgraded to this expanded reissue when it came out. The album proper is almost a classic of its own - the band goes through Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Gene Clark songs with varying aplomb, and there's a few originals such as the great 'If It Feels Good, You Know It Can't Be Wrong', by Thompson and Ashley Hutchings. Of course, no more false words have ever been written, but on that track, the debt to American rambling folk-rock is laid on thick. This is perhaps the least British Fairport Convention ever -- their smashing version 'Reno, Nevada' shows how much they fetishised American folk culture -- but some of the most fun. And Joe Boyd contributes to the liner notes, explaining how he pushed them to define a more distinctly British sound, which I think everyone can thank him for. These are Peel Sessions from before the term really existed and thus have that thin, spontaneous Maida Vale sound, with reverb on the live vocals (most evident on 'Fotheringay's haunting background voices and 'Si Tu Dois Partir'). It's only the bonus disc that starts to creep later, material-wise, into 1969 and into far more British fare. Here we get 'Nottamun Town', 'Fotheringay', 'Reynardine' and 'Tam Lin', all of which defined and distinguished Fairport Convention from the other masses of Dylan-gazing folk-hippies, and you can hear why. Thompsons's shredding on 'Nottamun' is great with Martin Lamble's congas, and it's like a hash den at times, all the more affecting when juxtaposed with a strident Jackson C. Frank cover. The version of 'Tam Lin' to close it out is a scorcher, as good as the album version and a million miles from 'Gone, Gone, Gone' earlier on the disc. It's an appropriate finish to something as conclusively 'fun' as this album, with a burning light that lingers after the disc has stopped spinning.

John Fahey - 'God, Time and Causality' (Shanachie)

This late-period Fahey (but predating his 'experimental' comeback on labels such as Tim/Kerr and Table of the Elements) is a gem, combining the expanded blues ragas of his early work with the more direct, punctual guitar tone found in his 80s recordings. He revisits some old tunes here, making this a key document of how an old master continually reinvents himself. Maybe it's wisdom and age, but God, Time and Causality announces itself right off the bat with 'Revelation', which according to the liner notes quotes Charley Patton. It then segues into 'The Red Pony', a thundering, almost violent epic that roars and flows for about six minutes. A new version of 'Lion', last heard on The Yellow Princess, follows, and the liner notes metions that this is stolen from an obscure blues guitarist named Walter Hawkins, and that the flamenco flourishes were also Hawkins'. This is such an iconic Fahey tune to me, and hearing it twenty years after the last recording illustrates the 'time' part of the album title. 'Requiem for Mississippi John Hurt' is also revisited as the second part of a medley and it becomes such a lifting, magical ride that I probably can't tell it's recorded 20 years after the version on Requia. There's a bed of overtones here, a warm glow from the speedy repetition which lingers on during the changes.  Fahey's 80s output is often overlooked and Rainforests admittedly feels minor and reaching, but God, Time and Casuality really can stand against any of his classic late 60s albums, so if anything this illustrates the biases of time (there's some causality for you). My own accumulation of Fahey recordings ends here, but I would like to check out Womblife again, because I remember it embracing electric reverb and delay pedals with a vigor not even hinted at in his earlier electronic tendencies, and while I didn't care for it at the time (preferring the definitive acoustic Fahey) I think that after listening to a few of these albums sequentially I would feel more of the context to support it (which is kinda really why I do this, you know)....