SLAID CLEAVES – ‘GHOST ON THE CAR RADIO’ OUT TODAY

Grew up in Maine. Lives in Texas. Writes songs. Makes records. Travels around. Tries to be good.

Slaid Cleaves lives with his wife of 21 years, Karen Cleaves, in the Hill Country outside Austin, Texas. While Karen books the shows, the flights, the hotels, and the rental cars; designs, orders and sells the CDs and T-shirts, pays the band, updates the web site, answers fan questions, does the taxes and makes dinner, Slaid writes his little songs (and fixes things around the house). They travel around the world together while Slaid plays for fans far and wide and gets all the glory. If it wasn’t for Karen, Slaid would be carrying all he owned in a shoe box, scrounging around for a happy hour gig.
 

 

 

SLAID CLEAVES – ‘GHOST ON THE CAR RADIO’ (OUT JUNE 23 on CANDY HOUSE MEDIA,
both on CD and on 140 grms vinyl)

Now twenty-five years into his storied career, Cleaves’ songwriting has never been more potent than on his new album ‘Ghost on the Car Radio,’ out June 23.
‘Ghost on the Car Radio’ is Cleaves’ first release since 2013’s ‘Still Fighting the War,” which was praised as “one of the year’s best albums” by American Songwriter and “carefully crafted…songs about the struggles of the heart in hard times” by the Wall Street Journal. The New York Daily News called his music “a treasure hidden in plain sight,” while the Austin Chronicle declared, “there are few contemporaries that compare. He’s become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine.”

Described as “terse, clear and heartfelt” (NPR Fresh Air), Cleaves speaks to timeless truths in his songs. “I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” he says.
“I think of songs as the whiskey of writing. Distilled down to the essence, powerful, concentrated, immediate. You can take it all in and really feel it in just seconds,” says Slaid Cleaves.

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Jack and Amanda Palmer – You Got Me Singing

Amanda Palmer
has always been a very assiduous creative figure, intent on exploring
art, occasionally confronting both the macabre and the taboo. Following
her last studio effort, 2012’s Theatre Is Evil,
the singer/songwriter has taken a decidedly bittersweet turn,
delivering an album of cherished cover songs in a wonderful folk-laced
vein recorded with her father, Jack Palmer. Opening the record is the title track and a cover of Leonard Cohen‘s
“You Got Me Singing” — something that seems an obvious choice as it
appears to encapsulate the project for both father and daughter
entirely. Beautifully delivered, both father and daughter complement
each other’s vocals extremely well. Amanda‘s
unmistakably soft yet commanding voice melds well with her father’s
dulcet tones. What is apparent throughout is just how much of a
delightfully mixed bag the song choices are. Early on we’re given
“Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” a children’s poem, and here we get an early
taste of the general instrumentation and overall sound throughout the
album; Amanda‘s
hushed lullaby vocals sit nicely atop her father’s storybook singing,
surrounded by warm, arpeggiated guitar chords and resonant, ringing
glockenspiels. It’s clear that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree
when listening to Jack Palmer‘s
delivery. His voice is as compelling as his daughter’s, evident on
songs such as “Louise Was Not Half Bad,” a deathly country song in which
his vocals seemingly nod to the late Johnny Cash,
rumbling throughout each verse, while the odd flutter of tropical
guitar notes traverses each chorus. A palpable highlight is a version of
Sinéad O’Connor‘s “Black Boys on Mopeds.” You can tell through Amanda‘s
voice here that it’s an important song for her. The song’s
stripped-back nature of just voice, mandolin, and the occasional backup
vocal of soothing humming really is the perfect example of how a song
can be more with less; uncluttered and simple, it’s a shining part of
the record. Another arresting moment is a version of Phil Ochs‘ protest song “In the Heat of the Summer,” in which Jack
slightly altered the lyrics. Knowing that the song was originally
written in response to the 1964 Harlem riots, the track feels all too
terrifyingly current when you absorb lyrics such as “Another black kid
face-down in the road/Whose life did not seem to matter,” sadly
translating as a reminder of how little progress has been made in terms
of tackling social division. It’s definitely worth noting that the
production throughout is warm and crisp, and at times it feels like
you’re the sole attendee of a live living-room set. It’s with this in
mind that a lot of the tracks feel very close and intimate, while at the
same time the use of reverb provides a rich sense of scale. Ultimately,
one of the things understood is that for an album of cover songs, the
result still feels entirely personal and held dear when hearing the
father and daughter pay tribute to their inspirations together.

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Jack and Amanda Palmer – You Got Me Singing

Amanda Palmer
has always been a very assiduous creative figure, intent on exploring
art, occasionally confronting both the macabre and the taboo. Following
her last studio effort, 2012’s Theatre Is Evil,
the singer/songwriter has taken a decidedly bittersweet turn,
delivering an album of cherished cover songs in a wonderful folk-laced
vein recorded with her father, Jack Palmer. Opening the record is the title track and a cover of Leonard Cohen‘s
“You Got Me Singing” — something that seems an obvious choice as it
appears to encapsulate the project for both father and daughter
entirely. Beautifully delivered, both father and daughter complement
each other’s vocals extremely well. Amanda‘s
unmistakably soft yet commanding voice melds well with her father’s
dulcet tones. What is apparent throughout is just how much of a
delightfully mixed bag the song choices are. Early on we’re given
“Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” a children’s poem, and here we get an early
taste of the general instrumentation and overall sound throughout the
album; Amanda‘s
hushed lullaby vocals sit nicely atop her father’s storybook singing,
surrounded by warm, arpeggiated guitar chords and resonant, ringing
glockenspiels. It’s clear that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree
when listening to Jack Palmer‘s
delivery. His voice is as compelling as his daughter’s, evident on
songs such as “Louise Was Not Half Bad,” a deathly country song in which
his vocals seemingly nod to the late Johnny Cash,
rumbling throughout each verse, while the odd flutter of tropical
guitar notes traverses each chorus. A palpable highlight is a version of
Sinéad O’Connor‘s “Black Boys on Mopeds.” You can tell through Amanda‘s
voice here that it’s an important song for her. The song’s
stripped-back nature of just voice, mandolin, and the occasional backup
vocal of soothing humming really is the perfect example of how a song
can be more with less; uncluttered and simple, it’s a shining part of
the record. Another arresting moment is a version of Phil Ochs‘ protest song “In the Heat of the Summer,” in which Jack
slightly altered the lyrics. Knowing that the song was originally
written in response to the 1964 Harlem riots, the track feels all too
terrifyingly current when you absorb lyrics such as “Another black kid
face-down in the road/Whose life did not seem to matter,” sadly
translating as a reminder of how little progress has been made in terms
of tackling social division. It’s definitely worth noting that the
production throughout is warm and crisp, and at times it feels like
you’re the sole attendee of a live living-room set. It’s with this in
mind that a lot of the tracks feel very close and intimate, while at the
same time the use of reverb provides a rich sense of scale. Ultimately,
one of the things understood is that for an album of cover songs, the
result still feels entirely personal and held dear when hearing the
father and daughter pay tribute to their inspirations together.

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Folk Music in America

“Folk Music in America” is a series of 15 LP records published by the
Library of Congress between 1976 and 1978 to celebrate the bicentennial
of the American Revolution. It was curated by
librarian/collector-cum-discographer Richard K. Spottswood, and funded
by a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The music,
pulled primarily from the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song (now
Archive of Folk Culture), spans nearly a century (1890-1976) and
virtually every form that can be considered American music. This
includes native American songs and instrumental music, music of
immigrant cultures from all over the world, and uniquely American forms
like blues, jazz and country.

Download “Folk Music in America” (1.1GB) (Individual links below)

At
15 LP records (252 songs, 12 hours), the series stretches what can be
considered a single publication, but represents a somewhat comprehensive
survey of American folk music of the 20th century. The booklets
(included here in PDF form) transcribe lyrics, share images and tell
short stories about sources and symbols helpful in understanding the
material. Each disc is organized along a theme, which follow. Click the
links below to download the “discs” individually, or the image above to
download the whole anthology. If you absolutely have to choose, I’m
partial to volumes 1, 6 and 14.

  1. Religious Music – Congregational and Ceremonial
  2. Songs of Love, Courtship, and Marriage
  3. Dance Music – Breakdowns and Waltzes
  4. Dance Music – Reels, Polkas, Etc.
  5. Dance Music – Ragtime, Jazz, Etc.
  6. Songs of Migration and Immigration
  7. Songs of Complaint and Protest
  8. Songs of Labor and Livelihood
  9. Songs of Death and Tragedy
  10. Songs of War and History
  11. Songs of Humor and Hilarity
  12. Songs of Local History and Events
  13. Songs of Childhood
  14. Solo and Display Music
  15. Religious Music – Solo and Performance

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Michael Chapman – 50

In the press release that accompanies Michael Chapman‘s 2017 album 50,
the iconic British guitarist refers to it as his “American album.”
While the material does sound less idiosyncratically British than much
of Chapman‘s body of work, 50
could be more accurately described as his indie rock album. He’s best
known as a master of the acoustic guitar, but on these sessions, the
dominant instrument is the electric guitar of Steve Gunn, who also produced the sessions. Gunn
assembled a band of like-minded musicians whose passions encompass
indie rock, experimental rock, and the more abstract corner of
Americana, and while Chapman‘s impassioned vocals ride over the top and his acoustic guitar is audible in the mix, the band doesn’t bow to Chapman so much as encourage him to keep up with them. It’s significant that six of the ten songs on 50 are numbers Chapman
has recorded before, and while the new interpretations are bold and
often muscular, these new takes recast the music in a more aggressive
and less folkie manner than one might expect from him. If the spotlight
seems less tightly focused on Chapman
on this album, he certainly sounds engaged with the music, and his
vocals on numbers like “The Mallard,” “Memphis in Winter,” and “Money
Trouble” are strong and defiant, bringing his stories of lives along the
margins to vivid life. And even though Gunn
and his cohorts threaten to steal the show with their folkie but
clamorous brand of indie rock, the heartfelt racket summoned by Nathan Bowles, James Elkington, and Jimy Seitang fits Chapman‘s music better than one might expect. (Besides, venerable U.K. folk singer and songwriter Bridget St. John is on hand to keep Chapman company and contribute vocals.) Chapman is an artist who has never had a problem with upending creative expectations, and if 50
isn’t the sort of music many of his longtime fans would expect from
him, it’s also passionate, literate, and the work of an artist who wants
to make the most of his late-era career. Not many artists sound this
determined and engaged, especially at the age of 75.

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Chuck Johnson – Blood Moon Boulder

Chuck Johnson’s impact on the contemporary guitar world continues to be
felt. His first two solo records signaled the arrival of a
unique player, steeped in various forms of playing and influence, yet distinctly modern. Johnson eschews a weathered
traditionalism for the wide-scope expanse of 21st Century Americana.

On his third album, Blood Moon Boulder, Johnson reaches a compositional
peak in a nod to the picturesque naturalism of the American landscape.
The dynamics of his range can be felt on this singular record, a
soundtrack-like listen that rewards the ear with rich detail.

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Kelly Joe Phelps

KELLY JOE PHELPS: BROTHER SINNER AND THE WHALE

It’s as thin as the edge of a razor, the road separating Heaven from Hell, sin from salvation, redemption from despair. It’s a lonely road to go down and like the old gospel says, you’ve got to walk it for yourself. Kelly Joe Phelps has been doing lot of soul searching since his last record, ‘Western Bell’ came out in 2009. Three years later, his journey has wound its way to a recording studio in Vancouver, and Kelly Joe has once again beaten a path to Steve Dawson’s door with a new batch of songs tucked into his satchel that reflect both the new insights gained along the journey as well as things that have been dropped by the wayside. Together Phelps and the veteran producer embarked on a three day recording odyssey that marked their fourth collaboration since Dawson played slide on ‘Slingshot Professionals’, produced ‘Tunesmith Retrofit’ and released ‘Western Bell’ after it proved too daring for Rounder Records. The result is ‘Brother Sinner and the Whale’, a record that may very well come to be recognized as the best of an already very impressive body of work.

Since his debut album ‘Lead Me On’, came out in 1994, the Pacific Northwest based singer and songwriter has written and performed some of the most compelling slide guitar based music ever recorded. Though he spent his early years playing free jazz, he has never strayed too far from the roots music world that has become his passion. “I’d spent all this time learning improvisational music, but I’d always had an attraction to folk based music forms. So, I was listening to a lot of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and some of the newer people like Leo Kottke and John Fahey. My music is a reflection of all the music I loved and steeped myself in. There’s a space and openness in rural music that makes sense to me.” Playing a lap slide in a style that both evoked the sounds of the ancients and pointed towards new possibilities for the instrument, Kelly Joe’s music seemed to originate in another time as he sang with the voice of an old soul, weary with experience, yet excited with all of the prospects that life brings.

After several years of exhaustively exploring the potential of his slide, Phelps’ attention gradually shifted from instrumental virtuosity towards an emphasis on songwriting. “I wanted to keep moving forward, so I began to spend more effort thinking about my songs and not so much about the guitar because ultimately, I got bored with it because I felt that I had found all I could for myself within that sound. So, the work felt finished to me.”

Phelps’ inquisitive mind and restless spirit have always carried him forward to new forms of expression, but experimentation is not without its costs. When ‘Western Bell’ baffled his record company, puzzled some fans and failed to create new audiences for his work, Phelps pulled back from recording to search for a new direction. Unexpectedly, inspiration came through a re-­examination of his Christian roots, and resulted in an unexpected flurry of creative activity that gave birth to a whole new set of songs and a reinvigorated approach to playing the guitar as Phelps opted to play bottleneck rather than his customary lap slide to achieve a sound that wouldn’t have been out of place on a classic John Fahey or Reverend Gary David record.

With song titles like ‘Talking to Jehovah’, ‘I’ve been Converted’ and ‘The Holy Spirit Flood’, there’s no escaping that something has grown and changed in Kelly Joe’s world. Phelps’ lyrics fuse poetry from the Book of Jonah and the vintage gospel blues of Mississippi John Hurt with aspects of the early gospel work of Bill and Charlie Monroe thrown in for good measure to create what surely must be the most literary gospel songs recorded since Bob Dylan’s incendiary Christian albums came out three decades ago.

Phelps explains some of the motivation behind the new songs. “ I’d arrived at a place where I was sinking. I had to do something or my head was going to blow up or my heart would stop. When I found a way to allow myself to open up to creative impulse, this is what was staring me in the face and I did not want to say no to anything.” For those who have followed Kelly Joe’s music, this change isn’t too surprising as it represents a natural growth from the rural routes his music has tread until now. “This is going to be referred to as a gospel record, I suppose. The music is presented in an ancient form, but it’ll sound contemporary because of the way I play and write. But, thematically, I’m basing my compositional approach on old styles like the old blues and folk guys played.”

Thematically, Phelps doesn’t balk at ‘Brother Sinner and the Whale’ being described as a concept record. “It’s like a book. First, there’s ‘Good-­Bye to Sorrow’ and it’s like the foreword and all the other songs are like chapters in that book. ‘Hard Times Have Never Gone Away’ says that just because you believe, it doesn’t mean that life is going to stop being hard or even change in its intensity. It means that your focus is shifting in how you’re going to handle it or how you’re going to understand it. Very few things are ever likely to change overnight.” While that may be true, it’s still amazing to consider how three days spent in a recording studio have allowed Phelps to redefine who he is as an artist with a solo record that builds on all of his lyrical, compositional and technical strengths to form the best album of his career. It is as Phelps says, ‘the kind of thing that lights a fire under one’s boots and in one’s belly.’ Listen to ‘Brother Sinner and the Whale’ and you’ll certainly agree.

Other talk about Kelly Joe:

Steve Earle: “Kelly Joe Phelps plays, sings, and writes the blues. HOLD UP before you lock that in – forget about songs in a twelve bar three chord progression with a two line repeat and answer rhyme structure – though he can certainly do that when he wants to. I’m talking about a feeling, a smoky, lonesome, painful – yet somehow comforting groove that lets you know that you are not alone – even when you’re blue. Play on brother.”

Bill Frisell: “I first became aware of Kelly Joe Phelps when my daughter (who was 9 or 10 at the time) brought home a cd (‘Lead Me On’) from the Vancouver Folk Festival. “You might like this, Dad” she said. Boy was she right. I’ve heard Kelly Joe mention that he’s been inspired by people like Roscoe Holcomb, Robert Pete Williams, Dock Boggs, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others. He seems to have absorbed all this (and all kinds of other stuff as well) and come back with something all his own. Sounds like he’s coming from the inside out. The bottom up. He’s not just playing ‘AT’ the music or trying to recreate or imitate something that’s happened in the past. He seems to have tapped into the artery somehow. There’s a lot going on in between and behind the notes. Mystery. He’s been an inspiration to me.”

Tim O’Brien: “When I heard Kelly Joe the first time, I was amazed how it all made so much sense. His music is a wide world with three hundred and sixty degrees of influence…. Kelly Joe is a musical slight of hand master. He pulls world wide sounds out of his guitar.”

CD’s by Kelly Joe Phelps:

Western Bell (Black Hen Music, 2009)
Tunesmith Retrofit (Rounder, 2006)

Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind (Rykodisc/True North, 2004)

Slingshot Professionals (Rykodisc, 2003)

Beggar’s Oil EP (Rykodisc, 2002)
Sky Like a Broken Clock (Rykodisc, 2001)

Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Rykodisc, 1999)

Roll Away the Stone (Rykodisc, 1997)

Lead Me On (Burnside, 1994)

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JOHNNY CASH American Recordings

copy-of-black-friday-sale-poster-with-optical-illusion

The Highwaymen recorded a second album in 1992, and it was more commercially successful than any of Cash‘s Mercury records. Around that time, his contract with Mercury ended. In 1993, he signed a contract with American Records. His first album for the label, American Recordings, was produced by the label’s founder, Rick Rubin, and was a stark, acoustic collection of songs. American Recordings, while not a blockbuster success, revived his career critically and brought him in touch with a younger, rock-oriented audience. In 1995, the Highwaymen released their third album, The Road Goes on Forever. The following year, Cash released his second album for American Records, Unchained, which featured support from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. His VH1 Storytellers outing was released in 1998, and in the spring of 2000, Cash compiled Love, God, Murder, a three-disc retrospective focusing on the major songwriting themes dominant throughout his career. The new studio album American III: Solitary Man appeared later that year.

American IV: The Man Comes Around

Health problems plagued Cash throughout the ’90s and into the 2000s, but he continued to record with Rubin; their fourth collaboration, American IV: The Man Comes Around, was released in late 2002. The following year, the Mark Romanek-directed video for his cover of Nine Inch Nails‘ “Hurt” garnered considerable acclaim and media attention, culminating in an unexpected nomination for video of the year at the MTV Video Music Awards. Not long after the video sparked numerous stories, his beloved wife June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003, of complications following heart surgery. Four months later, Johnny died of complications from diabetes in Nashville, TN. He was 71. Five months later, the compilation Legend of Johnny Cash became a Top Ten hit. In 2006 Lost Highway released the next-to-last installment of Cash‘s legendary “American” recordings, American V: A Hundred Highways, from the late singer’s last sessions with collaborator Rick Rubin. The final installment from those sessions appeared as American VI: Ain’t No Grave, in early 2010, and is reported to be the last of the American Recordings releases. American Recordings

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Chris Smither

Artist Biography by Richard Skelly

Like John Hammond and a handful of other musicians whose careers began in the 1960s blues revival, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Chris Smither can take pride in the fact that he’s been there since the beginning. Except for a few years when he was away from performing in the ’70s, Smither has been a mainstay of the festival, coffeehouse, and club circuits around the U.S., Canada, and Europe since his performing career began in earnest in the coffeehouses in Boston in the spring of 1966. Smither is best known for his great songs, items like “Love You Like a Man” and “I Feel the Same,” both of which have been recorded by guitarist Bonnie Raitt. Raitt and Smither got started at about the same time in Boston, though Smither was born and raised in New Orleans, the son of university professors.

Smither‘s earliest awareness of blues and folk music came from his parents’ record collection. In a 1992 interview, he recalled it included albums by Josh White, Susan Reed, and Burl Ives. After a short stint taking piano lessons, Smither switched to ukulele after discovering his mother’s old instrument in a closet. The young Smither was passionately attached to the ukulele, and now, years later, it helps to explain the emotion and expertise behind his unique fingerpicking guitar style. Smither discovered blues music when he was 17 and heard a Lightnin’ Hopkins album, Blues in the Bottle. The album was a major revelation to him and he subsequently spent weeks trying to figure out the intricate guitar parts. Smither moved to Boston after realizing he was a big fish in a small pond in the New Orleans folk/coffeehouse circuit of the mid-’60s. Also, acoustic blues pioneer Ric Von Schmidt had recommended Smither check out the Boston folk-blues scene.

I'm a Stranger Too!

Smither recorded his first couple of albums for the Poppy label in 1970 and 1971, I’m a Stranger Too and Don’t It Drag On. In 1972, Smither recorded a third album, Honeysuckle Dog, for United Artists, which finally saw release on the Heavenly label in the mid-2000s. On the sessions for that album, he was joined in the studio by his old friends Bonnie Raitt and Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John. After a long bout with alcoholism, Smither launched his recording career again in the late ’80s, although he hadn’t stopped performing. His return to a proper recording career, due to a deal with Flying Fish Records, didn’t happen again until 1991, when the label released Another Way to Find You, a folk-blues album. Smither recorded It Ain’t Easy for the Adelphi label in 1984; the album was re-released on CD ten years later.

Happier Blue

Since then, he’s more than proved his mettle as an enormously gifted songwriter, releasing albums mostly of his own compositions for the Flying Fish, Hightone, and Signature Sounds labels. Smither‘s albums during the ’90s and into the 21st century include Happier Blue (1993, Flying Fish), Up on the Lowdown (1995, Hightone), Drive You Home Again (1999, Hightone), Live as I’ll Ever Be (2000, Hightone), Train Home (2003, Hightone), Leave the Light On (2006, Signature Sounds), and Time Stands Still (2009, Signature Sounds), a career highlight. Any of Smither‘s releases are worthy of careful examination by guitarists and students of all schools of blues and folk music. Smither is still, to some extent, an unheralded master of modern acoustic blues. Fortunately, his recordings and festival bookings during the ’90s and into the 21st century have elevated his profile to a higher level than he’s ever enjoyed previously.

Fairport Convention

Artist Biography by Richie Unterberger

The best British folk-rock band of the late ’60s, Fairport Convention did more than any other act to develop a truly British variation on the folk-rock prototype by drawing upon traditional material and styles indigenous to the British Isles. While the revved-up renditions of traditional British folk tunes drew the most critical attention, the group members were also (at least at the outset) talented songwriters as well as interpreters. They were comfortable with conventional harmony-based folk-rock as well as tunes that drew upon more explicitly traditional sources, and boasted some of the best singers and instrumentalists of the day. A revolving door of personnel changes, however, saw the exit of their most distinguished talents, and basically changed the band into a living museum piece after the early ’70s, albeit an enjoyable one with integrity.

When Fairport formed around 1967, their goal was not to revive British folk numbers, but to play harmony- and guitar-based folk-rock in a style strongly influenced by Californian groups of the day (especially the Byrds). The lineup that recorded their self-titled debut album in 1968 featured Richard Thompson, Ian Matthews, and Simon Nicol on guitars; Ashley Hutchings on bass; Judy Dyble on vocals; and Martin Lamble on drums. Most of the members sang, though Matthews and Dyble were the strongest vocalists in this early incarnation; all of their early work, in fact, was characterized by blends of male and female vocals, influenced by such American acts as the Mamas & the Papas and Ian & Sylvia. While their first album was derivative, it had some fine material, and the band was already showing a knack for eclecticism, excavating overlooked songs by Joni Mitchell (then virtually unknown) and Emitt Rhodes.

What We Did on Our Holidays

Fairport Convention didn’t reach their peak until Dyble was replaced after the first album in 1968 by Sandy Denny, who had previously recorded both as a solo act and with the Strawbs. Denny‘s penetrating, resonant style qualified her as the best British folk-rock singer of all time, and provided Fairport with the best vocalist they would ever have. What We Did on Our Holidays (1969) and Unhalfbricking (1969) are their best albums, mixing strong originals, excellent covers of contemporary folk-rock songs by the likes of Mitchell and Dylan, and imaginative revivals of traditional folk songs that mixed electric and acoustic instruments with a beguiling ease.

Liege & Lief

Matthews had left the band in early 1969, and Lamble (still in his teens) died in an accident involving the group’s equipment van in mid-1969. That forced Fairport to regroup, replacing Lamble with Dave Mattacks, and adding Dave Swarbrick on fiddle. Their repertoire, too, became much more traditional in focus, and electrified traditional folk numbers would dominate their next album, Liege and Lief (1969). Here critical thought diverges; some insist that this is unequivocally their peak, marking a final escape from their ’60s folk-rock influences into a much more original style. This school of thought severely underestimates their songwriting talents, and others feel that they were at their best when mixing original and outside material, and contemporary and traditional styles, in fact becoming more predictable and derivative when they opted to concentrate on British folk chestnuts.

Full House

The Liege and Lief lineup didn’t last long; by the end of the ’60s, Ashley Hutchings had left to join Steeleye Span, replaced by Dave Pegg. More crucially, Denny was also gone, helping to form Fotheringay. Thompson was still on board for Full House (1970), but by the beginning of 1971 he too had departed, leaving Nicol as the only original member.

Angel Delight

Fairport have kept going, on and off (mostly on), for the last 25 years, touring and performing frequently. It may be too harsh to dismiss all of their post-Thompson records out of hand; Angel Delight (1971), the first recorded without the guitarist on board, was actually their highest-charting LP in the U.K., reaching the Top Ten. Nicol‘s exit in late 1971 erased all vestiges of connections to their salad days. Fairport was now not so much a continuous entity as a concept, carried on by musicians dedicated to the electrified British folk style that had been mapped out on Liege and Lief.So it continues to this day, supported by a devoted fan base (Dirty Linen, the top American roots music magazine, originally began as a Fairport Convention fanzine). Denny would actually return to the group for about a year and a half in the 1970s, prior to her death in 1978; Nicol rejoined in 1976. Keeping track of Fairport‘s multitudinous lineup changes is a daunting task, and the group has coexisted on an erratic basis with the various other projects of the most frequent members (Nicol, Mattacks, and Pegg, the last of whom has played with Jethro Tull since the late ’70s). They began playing annual reunion concerts in the 1980s (sometimes joined on-stage by Fairport alumni like Thompson), events that turned into some of the most popular folk festivals in Europe. They also released some albums of new material intermittently throughout the last couple of decades, mostly pleasant traditional-oriented outings that appeal primarily to diehards.

The most distinguished graduates of Fairport, however, continued to shape the British folk and folk-rock scene with notable solo and group projects. Richard Thompson is one of the most critically acclaimed singer/songwriters in the world; Ian Matthews has made some interesting recordings as a solo act and with Plainsong and Matthews Southern Comfort; Denny sang with Fotheringay and released several solo albums before her death; and Hutchings carried on the most traditional face of British folk-rock with Steeleye Span, the Albion Band, and the Etchingham Steam Band.