Wednesday, September 21, 2011
No Roses - Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band
Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band
This is the 1976 American release of an album originally released on Pegasus in England. I consider it one of the best English folk-rock albums and it was made by an all-star line-up of English folk performers including the "Liege and Lief" line-up of Fairport Convention minus Dave Swarbrick and Sandy Denny. Ashley Hutchings (who had just married Collins) was the driving force behind the record which sounds a lot like his work with Fairport and Steeleye Span, but Collins herself had a long history as a progressive figure in English folk. Her 1964 collaboration with Davy Graham "Folk Roots, New Routes" is a favorite of mine and is often cited as a pioneering work in liberating English folk from its traditional strait-jacket as is her 1969 album "Anthems in Eden" in which (in collaboration with her sister Dolly) Collins explored new instrumental settings for traditional music. Still neither of those albums approach rock, which this album delivers in spades. The album kicks off with the beat of the drums and Collins launches into "Claudy Banks" which is a familiar folksong about a man who unrecognized by his lover tests her fidelity by telling her that her boyfriend is dead and observing her reaction. It sounds like Fairport Convention until the sax and bassoon kick in. It is followed by the charming "The Little Gypsy Girl" in which the title character induces a wealthy squire to marry her. It is driven by Tony Hall on the melodeon. The stately "Banks of the Bann" follows with some beautiful piano lines from Dolly Collins. It is about a poor boy in love with a wealthy girl whose parents reject him. "Murder of Maria Marten" is an amazing song reminiscent of early Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Three electric guitars rock out accompanied by a fiddle and a hurdy-gurdy supported by the rock solid rhythm section of Ashley Hutchings and Dave Mattacks. Richard Thompson takes the lead supported by Simon Nicol and Quiver's Tim Renwick and the result sounds a lot like the Fairport classic "Sloth" from "Full House." Collins' passionate vocal relates a dark ballad based on a sensational 19th Century murder case and the song alternates between chugging folk-rock and a mournful drone. It is a true folk-rock synthesis and displays the full possibilities of the genre. Side two opens with "Van Dieman's Land" which continues in a similar vein as Collins sings of poachers being exiled to Tasmania as punishment. It has a solid folk-rock backing with pipes and a concertina adding instrumental color as well as an ophicleide. "Just As The Tide Was A'Flowing" reminds me of the first Steeleye Span album, "Hark! The Village Wait," a resemblance heightened by Maddy Prior's presence as a harmony vocalist. It is a sweet song about a bride who misses her sailor husband away at sea. It sounds to me like phasing is applied to the concertina on the song and I'll bet that Hutchings got the idea from the Byrds. Folk singing stalwarts Lal and Mike Waterson as well as Royston Wood of the Young Tradition join Collins on the hunting song "The White Hare." It sounds more folk than rock as does the May Day dance song, "Hal-An-Tow." Rock returns full force on the closing song, "Poor Murdered Woman" with the redoubtable team of Hutchings and Mattacks laying down a forceful rhythm track on which Nicol and Thompson pile on ringing guitar chords with Dolly Collins adding typically gorgeous piano lines and Dave Bland playing the concertina. This tragic song of murder and class conflict gradually builds in intensity in the best Fairport style and Collins delivers one of her most emotionally powerful vocals. The song gives me chills. It is a great conclusion to a classic record, one of the most fully-realized and satisfying folk-rock records ever, it offers the best of both genres. Recommended for fans of "Liege and Lief" and "Full House."