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22 December 2013

Fairport Convention - 'Liege & Lief' (Island)

Most would consider this their best album, and it's hard to argue with the "Don't fuck with me" stomp of 'Matty Groves' or 'Tam Lin'. My personal favourite is Unhalfbricking, not just for its awesome title but also for it's brilliant Dylan covers and the epic 'A Sailor's Life'. Alas, I've never found an affordable vinyl copy so we have to skip on to this fourth album, which as I already said, is pretty hard to fuck with. While Unhalfbricking might have better songs, this has the strongest performances. According to the Internet, this was released in December 1969, making three full albums in one calendar year, and I'd say their three finest, certainly of the Thompson era (which is really all I know). This is truly Fairport showing their growth as a "band"; the grungy stomp of 'Matty Groves' is evidence of a solid rock ensemble that has developed over a few albums, the kind that Carducci would write about as a tight technical unit. There's nothing fey or wimpy about the folk influence; instead it shows a remarkable dedication to the presence of each musician, the rhythmic motion pulling each piece in a definite direction and letting Denny's voice soar. The repetitive palm-muting on 'The Deserter' achieves a similar transcendence. Fast-forward to this blog years in the future, when we get to solo Thompson albums and I'm sure I'll still be raving about how 'Calvary Cross' is as heavy as the best Black Sabbath material then. The years may pass, but my diatribes never change. Anyway, the traditional, Swarbrick-driven material like side two's medley maintains the same hard-rock edge, and if there was any singer here besides Denny, she'd probably be left in the dust. This is six people playing rock music, not five plus a singer, and the way she coasts over the crests of 'Tam Lin''s waves is masterful, allowing the in-between verse sections to meander with guitar explorations but holding everything central. This could make a believer out of anyone who thinks they don't like folk-influenced stuff, and over the years this continues to sound fresh and alive, not like a clichéd dinosaur.

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