This is a new studio album by the current line-up of the evergreen Fairport Convention - Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie and Gerry Conway. The music reflects influences on band's output over the last decade - there are three songs from Chris Leslie, two from Steve Tilston, one each from from Ben Bennion and Julie Matthews, plus one "Trad. arr." and two instrumentals by Ric Sanders. The remaining track is Bob Dylan in French - a reworking of "Si Tu Dois Partir" which was originally released on "Unhalfbricking" in 1969 and as a single. Lyrics of all the songs are included in the attractive booklet insert.
Leslie has developed a skill for writing a song around a tale from history in the tradition of the folk balladeers - indeed he starts "I'm Already There" with a quotation from the ballad "Lord Franklin". His subject is Franklin's attempt to find the Northwest passage in 1819-22 and he uses after-the-event dreams of the Vicar of Banbury, brother of one of the crew, to relate the horrors of the expedition. It sounds a bit strange but works quite well, helped by a lovely atmospheric treatment from the band. "Over the Falls" tells the tale of Blondin's epic tightrope-walk over Niagara Falls in 1859. Sad and wistful, "The Fossil Hunter" is a song about Mary Anning of Lyme Regis who, after the death of her father, supported her family through the finding and selling local fossils.
In contrasting style and subject, Bennion's "Wait for the Tide to Come In" is about eviction, homelessness and the perils of life on the road - it's a heavy slow rocker with a throbbing bass beat underneath electric guitar and mandolins. Both the Tilston songs "Over the Next Hill" and "Willow Creek" are catchy but the title track is the stronger - nicely performed and with sentiments that are apt to the band. Matthews' "Westward" has a great sing-along chorus, set against chick-a-boom drumming and other country-style instrumental work, while "The Wassail Song" is a familiar traditional ditty given a distinctive syncopated treatment. Of the instrumentals, the medley "Canny Capers" is pleasant, jolly stuff, and "Some Special Place" is an emotional slow air featuring two violins which keeps reminding me of something else ... bits of "The Dark Island" perhaps?
"Si Tu Dois Partir" was recorded for this album after its enthusiastic reception on the Fairport Winter 2004 tour and it makes a fitting climax to the album, complete with broken bottle sampled from the original recording. Then, in the style of Paul McCartney's "Her Majesty" at the end of the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album, there is a long pause leading to short epilogue - in this case "Auld Lang Syne".
I like this album. It is not a classic, in that the most of the songs are good without being outstanding, but the music is well-played by a band that is very much alive and kicking.
Solid album that packs no suprises, but seems a bit more consistent than the last few albums - less ballads and more upbeat, as well. Usual mixture of Leslie Originals, outside songwriters and a couple of "Trad." tunes. Wassail opens with a strange nod to Jethro Tull's living the past, and the band's fluid playing of guitars, mandolins, violins is excellent as always. Gerry Conway's drumming and percussion seems lively.
on 28 July 2009
I heard this first when I returned to the fold at Cropredy after 25 years of believing the band had split up. The release of this CD, following a personal tour down memory lans as I bought CD versions of the early classics and tried to fill in the "missing years", brought me to the realisation that the band are back to the sort of balance they had on Full House and Angel Delight. Chris Leslie's writing comes close to perfection for the current line up's strengths and he avoids the more twee elements that weaken other albums. For us 50 somethings this captures our lost innocence, with tracks like Over the Next Hill and Waiting for the Tide as a clarion call to get a camper van and get out of the rat race. Given the subsequent collapse of the "establishment" in the credit crunch, the warning came just in time. Over the Next Hill but certainly not over the hill.