In reading music reviews on Amazon, I have noticed a line of thought which criticizes a number of mid-sixties albums for being too eclectic and not consistent (see also Joan Baez-Joan (1967) & Mary Hopkin-Postcard (1968) among others).I feel these criticisms seem to totally miss the spirit of the mid-sixties in which these albums were created.
The mid-sixties, and especially 1966-1967 witnessed one of the most creative periods in popular music history and the mass communications of the era were spreading it rapidly throughout the culture. One of the main features of the spirit of this time was the desire to try new things in an atmosphere of freedom and experimentation. Dylan went electric, the Beatles went acoustic, lyrics became literate and meaningful, and everyone was being influenced by everyone else.
Eclecticism and variety were a goal of these musicians and no one would have wanted to be accused of not trying something new or putting out an album just like last year's. This was especially true of the acoustic guitar folk crowd who rushed to try out new sounds and styles. This time period produced such great albums as Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, Judy Collins's In My Life & Wildflowers, Joan Baez's Joan, Donovan's Sunshine Superman & Mellow Yellow; Peter, Paul & Mary's Album 1700, and Phil Och's The Pleasures of the Harbor. Anyone who didn't change in this era was left behind.
Fire and Fleet and Candlelight was exactly this kind of album with its stunning diversity of material and arrangements.
What could be more in the spirit of 1967 than The seeds of Brotherhood, sung without irony? What song was ever more eerily unearthly than Lyke wake Dirge, sung in Buffy's tremulous voice accompanied by horns and tympani? And who else would think of doing Benjamin Britten? Then there are the love songs: the plaintive Summer Boy, the Anger of Little Boy Dark Eyes and the full out pop of Tes Pas Un Autre. But of course there is more. Doggett's Gap, Lord Randall and Reynardine-a Vampire legend are traditional tunes with very stripped down arrangemants sounding like they may have sounded many years ago. And then standing out almost bizarrely is the vaudeville bawdiness of 97 Men...
Then there are the songs orchestrated by music scholar Peter Schickele (who had his own series of popular albums in the rare genre of classical music comedy). These vary from the Britten eeriness to the flute and harp of The Carousel to the full bore accompaniments to The Circle Game and Hey, Little Bird. The Circle Game is peculiar in that it is usually sung with a melancholy or wistful air but here becomes a celebration of life.
That song, of course, is early Joni Mitchell as is Song To a Seagull. Buffy was one of the earliest people to record a Joni Mitchell Song. The second, I believe as George Hamilton IV did a version of Urge For Going that made top ten on the Country charts earlier in 1967. But moreso, it was buffy who brought Judy Collins to a Greenwich Village cafe to hear Joni and Judy who brought her to the attention of friends in the recording industry. Both Judy and Buffy were well known to be supporters of new talent.
With all this, Fire and Fleet and Candlelight is a total treat of an album and a real high point in Buffy Sainte-Marie's career. It is only unfortunate that more people didn't hear it, for as all of us who like her know, she was never going to be a big crowd pleaser and would always remain a special discovery of those who found her. ( I was glad to see her have her big moment with Up Where We Belong). If you have any interest in her music at all, this is certainly one of her finest albums.