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20 December 2013

Fairport Convention (A&M)

If you came here expecting a review of the first Fairport Convention album, their lone release with Judy Dyble as vocalist, you're going to be disappointed. This is actually the second Fairport record, correctly known as What We Did on Our Holidays but released in the US as a self-titled record, just like They used to do so often to be intentionally confusing (or, I'm sure there was a better reason, but, eh). This is another record that is, at this point, "iconic" but we'll try to actually hear it this time through. 'Fotheringay' is the opening cut, along with 'Meet on the Ledge' the two eternal classics from this album (which will appear on any Fairport/Thompson greatest hits comp that has the rights to them). The traditionals are the high points - remember, unlike most of their ilk, Fairport actually started more "rock" and migrated towards "folk". 'She Moves Through the Fair' is one of those things that would truly define the movement, and the then-contemporary covers (Joni Mitchell's 'Eastern Rain' and Dylan's 'I'll Keep It With Mine') situate it in a wrapping that is strangely paisley with a British tweed mix (which would probably look godawful were it a real fabric and not a badly-designed music-writing metaphor). 'Book Song' is an original that feels akin to 'Percy's Song', with an inspired Thompson blues-influenced solo that has just a wonderful, earthy tone. The blues progression of 'Mr. Lacey' is a bit tired, and Simon Nicol's 'End of a Holiday' ends things with a melancholy I find less than convincing. But I'm just nitpicking; the way the dark moods of '"The Lord Is In This Place... How Dreadful Is This Place"' explodes into the pure pop of Thompson's 'No Man's Land' is more or less magic, even if the "folk" and "rock" are split across two tracks. It's so easy to look back at this as an experiment in synthesis and lose sight of the emotion and feeling of what it meant for young British rockers to be rediscovering this material. It's the feeling that made this a cornerstone of a movement, or rather an empire.

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