Thursday 11 February 2010

The Singer and The Song: 10 Great Albums Where Traditional Folk Singers Blossomed Into Great Writers

1. LAL & MIKE WATERSON - Bright Phoebus (1972) Trailer
Lal Waterson's path from harmoniser in singing traditional family, the Watersons, to intensely introspective - and exceptional - songwriter is charted in this one, singular album. No one who wasn't completely immersed in traditional song could evoke pagan mystery as effectively as Lal with The Scarecrow. And Child Among the Weeds is an unflinching, haunting account of childbirth. It was left to brother Mike, following the same trajectory from traditionalist to individualist, to provide light relief with his tale of a provincial Lothario, Magical Man, and the outrageously punning Rubber Band.

2. ANNE BRIGGS - The Time Has Come (1972) CBS
The promise of Living By The Water (from Anne Briggs, 1971), realised in a collection of original songs of beauty and sensitivity, most by Briggs, and some by fellow travellers Lal Waterson, Johnny Moynihan and Henry McCulloch. Strangely devoid of hope, for something of such heart-wrenching beauty.

Dyverse Values: Anne Briggs - Anne Briggs (1971)

3. SANDY DENNY - The North Star Grassman & The Ravens (1971) Island
Songs of emotional and natural disaster, written in a minor key and sung by the most exquisite voice in English song. The internal reverie of Denny's most celebrated song, Who Knows Where the Time Goes, is sustained throughout the album.

4. ARCHIE FISHER - Orfeo (1970) Decca
In which the epic vision - the title track retells the medieval romance of King Orfeo - is met by a similarly expansive budget: the lavish orchestration enhances the natural nobility of Fisher's voice. But the traditional songs are outnumbered by originals: the settings become more domestic, there's a sharpening psychological realism, but the orchestra follows Fisher into the kitchen. Little-known, and without the cult following of Bright Phoebus, Orfeo was justifiably considered worthy of reissue by Celtic Music in 1985, and deserves a CD edition.

5. SWEENEY'S MEN - The Tracks of Sweeney (1969) Transatlantic
So was it the success of The Incredible String Band that encouraged folkies to explore their own inner psyches and create, as here, such masterworks as Standing On The Shore (by Johnny Moynihan) and Dreams For Me (by Terry Woods)? If that's the case, then the influence of The 5000 Spirits or The Layers Of The Onion has been a lot more benign than the influence of Sgt Pepper or The Velvet Underground & Nico.

6. PETER BELLAMY - The Transports (1977) Free Reed
A folk opera and a convincing updating of the ballad tradition. It has poignancy because of Bellamy's subsequent fate, and charm because the best-loved voices of the folk revival sing and play in character. A fully realised vision.

7. DRANSFIELD - The Fiddler's Dream (1976) Transatlantic
Pitched more ambitiously than the Trailer records, Barry and Robin Dransfield dipped their toes into folk-rock with The Fiddler's Dream. The results are intermittently wonderful.

8. KARINE POLWART - Faultlines (2003) Neon
Wistful, gentle songs that soothe and charm. Until one realises what Karine is singing about. Although her debut was an album of originals, Polwart has always sung traditional songs. (That side of her came to the fore with Fairest Floo'er.

9. ELIZA CARTHY - Angels & Cigarettes (2000) Warner Bros
A much misunderstood album. With Angels & Cigarettes, Eliza Carthy beat Alanis Morissette at her own, confessional, pop-friendly game and wasn't forgiven by folkies until atonement came with the great, but resolutely traditional Anglicana.

10.IAN & SYLVIA & THE GREAT SPECKLED BIRD - You Were On My Mind (1972) Columbia
Ian and Sylvia always favoured homegrown classics: he penned Four Strong Winds for the second album (of the same title), and she penned You Were On My Mind for Northern Journey, their third, in 1964. This late offering is mostly self-penned (with the exception of Robbie Robertson's Get Up Jake and the trad Lonesome Valley) and the wonderful You Were On My Mind is elevated to title track.


1 comment:

  1. I've been looking EVERYWHERE for Ian & Sylvia's 1972 album "You Were On My Mind". Please tell me you have a digital rip of this! I've been looking so hard and it's impossible to find. Can you PLEASE post this album?


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