Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fairport Convention - Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention
Fairport Convention
A&M  SP 4185

I bought this in Berkeley around 1980 and instantly fell in love with it.  This was the second Fairport Convention album which was entitled "What We Did On Our Holidays" in England with an entirely different cover.  I normally don't approve of record companies mucking about with album art, but I have to confess that I really like this cover.  It is my favorite picture of the group and I had it on display in my room for many years.  I am particularly moved by the happy countenance of Martin Lamble in the picture, in less than a year he would be killed in the van crash that nearly put an end to the band.  Aside from the altered artwork, the album is the same as its British counterpart.  It is a classic album, a folk-rock landmark and one of the best albums of its era.  This is my favorite Fairport line-up with new addition Sandy Denny and Iain Matthews handling vocals.  Matthews would be pushed out of the group during the sessions for the next record, which I suppose made sense but I miss his contribution to the group.  I thought his vocal interplay with Denny worked really well particularly on the lovely "Book Song."  This is one of the most graceful and charming pop records I have ever heard, it is full of wonderful singing and exquisite instrumental passages, particularly Richard Thompson's inspired guitar work.  Ever since I first heard it, I have considered the haunting "She Moves Through the Fair" to be the most beautiful pop song in existence.  Denny's vocal on that song makes me quiver every time I hear it.  Denny's own "Fotheringay" is also astonishingly atmospheric and moving and features some wonderful acoustic guitar interplay.  Anyone who has ever heard the early Fairport's BBC recordings knows what a great cover band they were and this record is no exception with memorable covers of Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" and Joni Mitchell's "Eastern Rain.  Richard Thompson asserts himself as an unusually talented songwriter with "Book Song," "No Man's Land," "Tale in a Hard Time," and the classic "Meet on the Ledge."  It is hard to believe that Thompson was only about 20 years old when he wrote "Meet on the Ledge," it is such a mature and wise song.  I can't hear it without thinking about Lamble and Denny.  I find it moving and uplifting every time I listen to it.  Even at this early stage in his career Thompson displays his gift for language and a distinctive point of view in all of his songs.  There is also a rare foray into the blues with Ashley Hutchings' "Mr. Lacey" which has its charms but also makes me glad that they stuck to folk-rock.  The odd mechanical noises in the instrumental break were created by robots made and operated by the titular character who was once a neighbor of Hutchings.  This is such a great album, I don't think you will ever find a more intelligent and beautiful pop record.  It is so unfortunate that the core line-up of Fairport was so short-lived, they were so talented and had so much potential, at their peak with this album and "Unhalfbricking" they were among the best rock bands in the world.  I'd pick this record over "Abbey Road," "Let It Bleed," "Led Zeppelin," "Tommy" or just about any other album from 1969 any day of the week.  Recommended for anyone who seeks beauty and sincere emotion in pop music.

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