Their fortieth anniversary album represents another landmark in the remarkable Fairport Convention story - like grandfather's axe they just keep on going. The content follows the pattern of the last two albums, with a mixture of some new songs and a bit of back catalogue material. The insert booklet includes all the lyrics.
The major contribution to the new material comes from the band's leading songwriter, Chris Leslie, whose output over the last decade has included a string of good folk-type songs based on real-life or mythical stories. The genre is represented here by "South Dakota to Manchester", inspired by the life of a Medicine Man from the Nakota people of North America, and "Edge of the World", based on the legend of the ship known as 'The Flying Dutchman' that is doomed to sail the seas forever. Chris's other songs are "Spring Song", a beautifully performed yearning pastoral ditty finishing with a vocal performance of the traditional dance tune "Princess Royal", then there's a bit of contemporary social comment in "In Our Town", contrasting with the whimsical sing-along opening track "Keep on Turning the Wheel" about a 1960s VW camper van. The other band member contributing original material is Ric Sanders, who provides two rather run-of-the-mill instrumentals in "The Bowman's Return" and "Just Dandy", plus the outstanding slow, lyrical "Your Heart and Mine".
From the Fairport back-catalogue come two songs. There's a good performance of "Polly on the Shore", but to my mind the original on "Nine" had more 'bite', although it is interesting that Simon Nicol's voice compares favourably with that of the late Trevor Lucas and shows how far he has progressed vocally over the years. "Tam Lin" first appeared on the ground-breaking "Liege and Lief" album in 1969 with the incomparable Sandy Denny singing; the band share the vocals here in a studio outing, but to my mind this classic song is one best left to live performances (it does, however, provide this album's token 'Trad. Arr.').
Of the remaining tracks, "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" is Fairport's take on an XTC track by Andy Partridge from their 1983 album "Mummer". "Hawkwood's Army" is an historical epic by Pete Scrowther (who wrote "Heart of the Song" on Fairport's 1999 album "The Wood and the Wire"). It's a story of war and gore with a good beat and a strong performance - a bit reminiscent of "Wat Tyler" in sound and style. For me "The Vision" is one of the outstanding tracks - a beautiful performance of a superb song by Americans Bill Miller and John Flanagan. "Untouchable" is a throbbing slow rocker written by Glenn Tilbrook (of Squeeze fame). "Galileo's Apology" is written by P.J. Wright and is also the title track of his new CD with Fairport's Dave Pegg; it's a ditty that grows on you. Finally, and in complete contrast, the last track is an unashamedly sentimental song by Steve Ashley. "Best Wishes" is sung by the band in close harmony and it sums up the Fairport approach to music and life: 'Long may the music keep you underneath its spell and long may you keep it live and always play it well'. Hear, hear to that. It's not quite the last track since if you leave the CD on for long enough you get a snatch of a dance tune right at the end.
This is an album which grows with each hearing. OK, some of it may be bordering on the twee, but you're allowed to relax a bit when you've been going for 40 years. If you're a follower of the current Fairport then you won't need persuading to buy this. If you are only familiar with their output in the 60s and 70s then it's still worth a listen as the band have plenty to offer in enduring, high-quality musicianship - and you get nearly 68 minutes of music for your money.