For over 3 decades Fairport's debut album on Polydor had been deleted and finally now has been given a rebirth on CD, and not before time. Although this album was the one where music critics suggested that Fairport were the Brit version of Jefferson Airplane or the Byrds, there really is only little similarity to either of those bands, particularly where vocal harmonies are concerned. This is the only album FC made which featured no traditional folk rock, which later was to become their hallmark. Instead there is a mixture of rock, contemporary folk, light jazz and even a c & w number. There is some highly melodic material included, as well as weirder experimental stuff (The Lobster'), but then this was recorded late 1967 at the height of psychedelia.
For me, the outstanding track on this album is the Joni Mitchell cover 'I Don't Know Where I Stand' sung beautifully by Judy Dyble, the original female vocalist. Richard Thompson's lead guitar on this number interplays superbly with Simon Nicol's rhythm guitar. Another example of Dyble's sensitive vocals are found on 'One Sure Thing' with an unusual and imaginative solo by RT. In fact his guitar work is already showing quite a remarkable standard as well as versatility in styles, and his solos on 'Sunshade', 'Lobster' and the c & w track `If (stomp)' demonstrate this well. FC's strange first single 'If I Had A Ribbon Bow' included as a bonus track is an old fashioned cocktail jazz number and again Dyble's vocals are perfectly suited to it. `Reno Nevada' is the only disappointment here, as the band used to play this number live which used to last several minutes, thanks to a long jazz solo by RT. It so impressed producer Joe Boyd on first hearing this played at a club, that he signed up FC immediately.
For those who like their music more hard-edged, there is the opening track 'Time Will Show The Wiser' and Thompson's jokey Dylan title, 'It's Alright Ma, It's Only Witchcraft, with a Hendrix type solo in the middle.
So Fairport Convention in thir early phase had no particular style of music that one could clearly identify with. However all the music on here is wonderfully played by all band members, with the voices of Judy Dyble and Ian Matthews blending well. Dyble, for me was the better singer of the two. Ian Matthews had a weaker, almost twee voice, when singing on his own, which could be irritating, particularly noticeable on `Decameron'. RT co-wrote a few tracks, but his songwriting talent was yet to develop more prominently as it did over the next few years.
Overall this album should definitely please Fairport fans, who were not around in the late `60s and want to hear how the band originally used to sound in their early days. It should also interest the curious, delving into RT's musical history. But do not expect an album like `Liege & Lief'. FC were a very different sounding band when they started out.