Between 1969 and 1972 - both singer-songwriters IAN MATTHEWS (of Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort) and ANDY ROBERTS (of The Scaffold, Liverpool Scene and Everyone) were busy boys. Between them I calculate they'd recorded nearly 20 albums before they finally amalgamated with Keyboard and Bassist Dave Richards (of The Scaffold, P.C. Kent and Everyone) and the American Guitarist Bob Ronga to form the short-lived but hugely revered PLAINSONG (signed to Elektra Records).
Plainsong's tenure lasted a year - 1972 to be exact - before differences parted them and Matthews went back to the USA to re-engage his solo career. The four-piece British band formed out of a mutual appreciation for Folk-Rock, Country-Rock and Americana – quickly rehearsing and recording their debut album "In Search Of Amelia Earhart" - finally released in October of 1972 with all those musical genres clearly in evidence. Very much in the vein of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young vs. America - two superb lead vocalists in Ian Matthews and Andy Roberts bolstered the band’s largely Wall-Of-Acoustic sound. They also put a second unreleased 13-track album in the can - along with BBC sessions, live shows and one-off singles - a tad over 40 recordings in one year (most are on here, not all).
And that's where this fabulous 2005 American 2CD reissue on the respected Water Records label comes harmonising in. Here are the airborne details...
US released 2 May 2005 - "In Search Of Amelia Earhart" by PLAINSONG (featuring Ian Matthews and Andy Roberts) on Water Records WATER 149 (Barcode 646315714920) is a 2CD ‘Expanded Edition’ Reissue of their lone 11-Track 1972 album on Elektra Records. It also includes the unreleased 13-track 2nd album entitled "Now We Are 3" along with outtakes, live recordings and stand-alone singles sides. It breaks down as follows...
Disc 1 (65:13 minutes): 1. For The Second Time [Side 1] 2. Yo Yo Man 3. Louise 4. Call The Tune 5. Diesel On My Tail 6. Amelia Earhart's Last Flight [Side 2] 7. I'll Fly Away 8. True Story Of Amelia Earhart 9. Even The Guiding Light 10. Side Roads 11. Raider Tracks 1 to 11 are their debut album "In Search Of Amelia Earhart" - released October 1972 in the UK on Elektra K 42120 and October 1972 in the USA on Elektra EKS 75044. Produced by SANDY ROBERTSON (Engineer Jerry Boys) - it didn't chart in either country.
RADIO SESSIONS: 12. Seeds And Stems 13. Tigers Will Survive 14. Spanish Guitar 15. Time Between 16. Truck Driving Man 17. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry 18. Wreck Of The Old 97
19. I'll Fly Away (Pre-First album Demo - Acapella Version)
PLAINSONG was: IAN MATTHEWS - Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar and Percussion ANDY ROBERTS - Lead Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Dulcimer and Kriwaczek String Organ BOB RONGA - 6 and12-String Acoustic Guitars DAVID RICHARDS - Bass and Piano with Timi Donald - Drums (except on "Call The Tune" - Dave Mattacks) Martin Jenkins - Mandocello on "Diesel On My Tail" and "Raider"
Disc 2 (78:45 minutes): "Now We Are 3" - Previously Unreleased Second Album 1. Old Man At The Mill [Side 1] 2. Urban Cowboy 3. The Fault 4. Swinging Doors 5. Keep On Sailing 6. Miss The Mississippi 7. Home [Side 2] 8. First Girl I Loved 9. Save Your Sorrows 10. Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Any More 11. The Goodnight Lovin' Trail 12. All Around My Grandmother's Floor 13. That's All It Could Amount To Tracks 3, 5, 7, 9 and 13 written by Ian Matthews - Tracks 2 and 12 written by Andy Roberts - all others are cover versions. "Old Man At The Mill" is a Traditional arranged by Plainsong, "Swinging Doors" is a Merle Haggard cover, "Miss The Mississippi" is a Jimmy Rogers cover, "First Girl I Loved" and "Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Any More" are both John Hartford covers and "The Goodnight Lovin' Trail" is a Bruce Utah Phillips cover.
PLAINSONG was: IAN MATTHEWS - Lead Vocals and Acoustic Guitar ANDY ROBERTS - Lead Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars and Dulcimer DAVID RICHARDS - Bass and Piano TIMI DONALD - Drums and Percussion with Steve Ashley - Harmonica on "The Goodnight Lovin' Trail" Ray Warleigh - Tenor Saxophone on "The Fault" and "Keep On Sailing" B.J. Cole - Pedal Steel Guitar on "Urban Cowboy" and "Keep On Sailing" - Dobro on "Miss The Mississippi" and "Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Any More" Harry Robinson - String Arrangements on "First Girl I Loved"
LIVE RECORDINGS 14. Amelia Earhart's Last Flight 15. Any Day Woman 16. Poor Ditching Boy 17. Even The Guiding Light 18. True Story Of Amelia Earhart 19. Raider 20. Miss The Mississippi
PLAINSONG Live was: Same line-up as "Now We Are 3" LP Added Bob Ronga on 12-String Acoustic Guitar and Roger Swallow replaced Timi Donald on Drums
SINGLES: 21. Along Comes Mary 22. Even The Guiding Light (Single Version) Dave Mattacks – Drums on Track 21 – Timi Donald on Track 22 Track 21 is a Tandyn Almer song - a cover of The Association's hit in 1966 on Valiant Records Track 22 is a radical re-recording of the "Earhart" album track with only Andy Roberts on Lead Vocals and is edited to 3:15 minutes in length. The louder and more Produced album version has both Ian Matthews and Andy Roberts on combined Harmony Vocals and runs to 4:12 minutes
Although the sepia-tinted 20-page booklet is a pretty thing to look at - when you go deeper - it's actually frustratingly vague on key issues and moments. The interview between Pat Thomas and Ian Matthews that makes up the bulk of the text is enlightening in some places - but you feel it concentrates on what happened to Matthews and Plainsong 'after' the album too much - acrimonious splits only to be re-united in the 90s to a point where there appears to be a Plainsong still technically operating to this day. I say this because the album's release date is not here, catalogue number, no discussion on where it was recorded, how, who did what - no pictures of the sevens Elektra tried in the UK and USA - no discussion of the BBC stuff - the stand-alone singles – no dates as to when they were recorded or by whom. There is zero discussion as to why the superb second album remained unreleased (the title probably reflects Bob Ronga leaving the original four-piece – hence "Now We Are 3"). Without sounding glib here - you'll probably learn more from my review than you will from the booklet. What you do get is the artwork of the gorgeous gatefold sleeve of the original 1972 album with the 'In Search Of Amelia Earhart' Fred Goerner story reproduced - live photos of the boys with Acoustic Guitars - a foreign tour poster for a gig on the 31 March 1972 (I think its Holland) and the usual re-issue credits at the rear (basic info though, no recording dates).
GARY HOBISH carried out the remasters and these CDs sound fab – really lovely - especially the two sweetly produced studio albums. Even though the Live Sessions (BBC shows in 1972) are a little below audio par - don't take that as a turn-off. They're full of atmosphere and actually show what an awesome thing Plainsong was in the live environment and make you wish they'd gotten that second album out because it's clear something special was going on here (and the audience knows it). This 2CD set isn't everything Plainsong recorded and doesn't claim to be (there are exclusives on the Band Of Joy "On Air" CD reissue from 1992 and the Taxim Records CD compilation "And That's That – The Demos" from the same year). But across 41 tracks – this wonderful release hardly puts an audio foot wrong. To the music...
In his interview with Pat Thomas – Matthews is almost like a cranky child as he describes his annoyance that the album and its specific artwork got somehow taken for a 'concept'. A simple sticker on the front sleeve would have explained that Plainsong was a band featuring Ian Matthews and Andy Roberts - and that might have stopped the public's confusion as they looked to every side of the gatefold sleeve for some kind of explanation or even indication as to what the music was about. But not to be...
And then there's the title. The intriguing 'was she a national hero/was she a government spy' story of female aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappearing in July 1937 was only touched upon in two songs – the rest were independent of that theme (so I suppose you can understand Ian's annoyance). Yet people mistook Plainsong the band and their album - which I suspect may have done for it sales-wise. With regard to the charismatic Earhart – America’s first lady of the air – the jury is still out. After months of searching - their bodies nor the wreckage were never located - and somewhere between New Guinea and Howland Isle and the 2556 miles in-between - lies the truth.
The album "In Search Of Amelia Earhart" opens its Country-Rock, Folk-Rock and Americana credentials with a Matthews original - the melodic "For The Second Time". A friend had seen our Ian through the night - twinned guitars humming his pain like America meets The Eagles (the Remaster is gorgeous). "Yo Yo Man" is a Rick Cunha/Martin Cooper song that first appeared on the 1971 Mason Williams album "Sharepickers" credited as "I'm A Yo Yo Man". You notice the Lead Vocals have changed from Ian to Andy Roberts with Ian harmonising when it's needed. Elektra obviously thought the funky wah-wah Tony Joe White guitar might give the song some legs because they issued it in November 1972 on Elektra EK-45821 with Side 2's "Side Roads" on the flipside - but it didn't ignite. Inexplicably - and especially given the sheer array of musicality on display here - it was the only US 45 from the album. In Blighty however Elektra UK tried a Promo 7" Threesome Maxi-Single issuing "Even In The Guiding Light" as the A-side to October 1972's Elektra SAM 8. The other two artists were Mickey Newbury and Harry Chapin and the release was plugging their appearance as a package bill at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on the 20th of that month. What eagle-eyed collectors noticed from the Butterfly label was that the 7" single variant was 3:15 minutes while the album cuts runs to a full 4:12 minutes. What it didn't say was that the recording was a re-make with Andy Roberts only on Lead Vocals as opposed to the two voices harmonising on the LP cut. Although the album version is better produced - I can more than understand why the re-recording was done - the single voice suddenly giving the song the focus and oomph it needed. It was obviously being lined-up for 45 No. 2 - but then not officially released. Shame because it's got great guitar work and a radio-friendly hooky nature.
Plainsong then takes on another obvious musical influence - Elektra's Paul Siebel and his "Louise" - a song covered by a diverse number of artists including Leo Kottke and Willy DeVille. Listening to the truly pretty "Side Roads" - I'm reminded so much of Smith Perkins Smith and their only self-titled album on Island Records from 1972 - those same cool-as-a-breeze CSYN vocals floating over beautifully recorded acoustic instruments. The "Earhart" album ends on another cult tune (Matthews has a knack for picking them) - "Raider" from the 1969 "Farewell Alderbaran" album by Blues Belter Judy Henske and Modern Jazz Quartet's/Lovin' Spoonful's Jerry Yester – an acquired taste over on Zappa's Straight Records. I've heard so many versions of their "Raider" song (the kind of tune that's always being covered) - but Plainsong's nearest comparison would be Fairport Convention circa "Liege & Leaf" with Andy Roberts on Vocals instead of Richard Thompson. Other nuggets include Matthews beautiful and lilting "Call The Tune" (would have chosen this as the lead-off 45) and their cover of the Carter Family associated traditional "I'll Fly Away" (most will probably know the melody from the Coen's movie "O, Brother Where Art Thou?" where it was heavily featured).
The Radio Sessions portion of Disc 1 opens with a George Frayne and Billy Farlow song from the Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen debut album "Lost In The Ozone" on Paramount Records in 1971 - "Seeds And Stems". The wall of acoustic guitars comes with top in-the-studio production values as do the covers of Gene Clark's "Spanish Guitar", Chris Hillman's "Time Between", Terry Fell's "Truck Driving Man" and that old Hank Williams perennial "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". On the 'Radio Sessions' - Plainsong sound like a mellow James Taylor or Matthews Southern Comfort having a chill out and a laugh. And the Acapella version of "I'll Fly Away" is short but fantastic - showing the band's amazing vocal chops - pure melody and a wonderful way to end Disc 1.
I'm kind of taken aback by the strength of the unreleased album "Now We Are 3" that in my humble opinion was lining up to be better than the revered debut. The band had clearly worked out that Matthews singing lead on the first song – followed by Roberts on the next one – worked (that's how each side loosely runs). Even their Country cover of Merle Haggard's "Swinging Doors" rocks – a witty take on the end of a relationship where you can find our hero on a bar stool at a joint with a neon sign and a casual policy towards closing time. The two John Hartford songs are superb too - "First Girl I Loved" and the nostalgic "Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Any More" - while B.J. Coles adds hugely to four songs – two with his distinctive Pedal Steel Guitar style and the other pair with cool Dobro picking (see credits above). Love that Dulcimer sound too on "Old Man At The Mill" – so Lindisfarne in its own way.
I could go on – but enough is enough. This is a superlative 2CD set making available again music that shouldn’t have gotten lost in boxes of tapes and public misconception.
"...All these chiefs...running out of braves..." – the boys sing on "Even The Guided Light". Don't let this winner get away from you this time...
In 1972, after the release of "In Search Of Amelia Earhart", Plainsong went into the studio to make another record. It was completed, white label copies were made, one of the tracks, "Goodnight Lovin' Trail", was issued on an Elektra sampler, and then...nothing - for 33 years! Iain Matthews, who had grown to dislike the sessions, was offered a solo recording contract and jumped ship to USA - the project was abandoned and never released - until now. On CD2 of this issue, the "lost" lp is presented in all its glory. Iain and Andy did release some of the songs on solo projects, mostly re-worked, but this record is a real joy to hear. Goodnight Lovin' Trail" is a moving song about the old West, Andy's version of John Hartford's "First Girl I Loved" is the golden glow of nostalgia encapsulated and "All Around My Grandmother's Floor" is nothing short of a masterpiece. Apart from all this, you have the legendary version of "Along Comes Mary" that inspired the formation of the band in the first place plus several other tracks from radio sessions etc and, of course, the original ISOAE album. Everything you need from the heyday of this great and innovative band is here - it's been worth the wait.
The original In Search of Amelia Aerhart album has always been a firm favourite and unavailable for years - despite hassling - and my old vinyl copy had seen better days. What a great re-release - maybe hassling really does work after all. If you haven't heard these guys before, check out 'Louise' and 'Amelia Aerhart's Last Flight' on CD 1. More importantly, how come they never released the album on CD 2? What a missed opportunity! It's at least as good as the first album and 'Keep on Sailing' and 'Miss the Mississippi' are quite superb! I'd better lay in another copy because I'm likely to wear this one out pretty soon!
This is an amazing find for Plainsong or Iain Matthews fans. Not only the legendary 'In Search Of Amelia Earhart' album plus out-takes and sublime BBC Radio 1 live cuts, but also the fabelled (and hitherto unreleased) second album ('Now We Are Three') which we all dispaired of ever hearing, coupled with some lovely live cuts from the band. This really is a bargain, clocking in as it does at almost two and a half hour's worth of fine music. There are 41 tracks on this 2 CD set as compared with 11 on the original 'In Search Of Amelia Earhart' CD which is currently on sale at around £40. There is so much good stuff on this collection - "Side Roads" in particular must be mentioned, as it is one of the most beautiful songs Iain ever cut in his long and illustrious career. Do yourself a favour and buy this album.
I've loved this album for the last 30 odd years and to stumble across a 2 CD set of an unreleased album, singles and live tracks took time to sink in. Everything about this set is excellent, booklet, tracks etc but the live concert on disc 2 beats all.
used to listen to this many years ago, decided to listen to it recently but i must say my l.p. was a bit passed it. found it on amazon & was delighted when it arrived within time frame. not everybodies cup of tea, but i can sing along in my car without my husband suffering.
I'd been looking for re releases of Plainsong / MSC Albums for years and eventually gave up. I didn't have the heart to record some of my vinyl albums to disc. What an amazing set of songs on disc 2. Guitar and harmonies are just fantastic and some of them very reminiscent of Fairport Convention style. Amazing value and what a treat.