Top positive review
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Free as a bird...
on 29 May 2009
Wow, what a lot to take in, an album, an ep and a double album along with previously unreleased tracks. I am still exploring, it's only been a couple of weeks since I first heard this collection. I was attracted to Heron by some intriguing reviews, by their insistence on recording out in meadows, and by a love of a wide variety of English artists delving into the pastoral.
The first disc opens with their first album "Heron", this is the recording that defines them and best captures what made them unique. Retaining birdsong and breeze in the background between tracks is very nice. The songs themselves are drifty, mellow and folky in a singer-songwriter folky sense, as opposed to being steeped in the tradition like Trees, Fairport etc. The frequent mention of rivers, waterfalls, meadows and trees in the lyrics evoke an idyllic English countryside that would perhaps peeve some actual country residents, but it's nice all the same. Some of the songs feel like watercolour paintings in a way. Highlights include "Lord And Master" and "For You", both of which feature uncredited female backing vocals that add a lovely touch.
"Heron" is followed by two tracks from the same sessions, the full-length "Harlequin 2" is great, but better still is "Rosalind", to my thinking a finer track than many that were chosen at the time for the album. Most of the remaining tracks on disc one and disc two feature a more robust ensemble, their sound often boosted by drums and bass to the point that their meadows seem forgotten and they sound, well, talented but less distinctive. This sense is intensified by various "indoor-sounding" instruments being more to the fore, such as piano.
"Winter Harlequin" is one track on disc two that sets back into the mood of the first album, and happily it is also the longest track on the collection, with beautiful delicate extended instrumental passages. It's the track, to my thinking, that best lives up to what is otherwise a misnomer, the description of Heron as "legendary prog-folkies", mentioned in the cd notes. Be advised that there are far more tracks that bear no resemblance to prog at all, Heron having quite eclectic taste, such as in the straight-up cover of "You Really Got A Hold On Me". For the most-part I'm hearing strong Beatles influences, the likes of "Blackbird" and "Mother Nature's Son" come to mind often, and also post-Beatles George Harrison, and Wings at their mellowest. The similarity between the lead singer and Paul McCartney in tone and delivery is striking at times on disc two. Sometimes the likeness gets a bit distracting. Elsewhere, there is something of a Simon And Garfunkel sound, whilst "Bye And Bye" has Van Morrison written all over it. "River Of Fortune" is perhaps the song that most resembles another band mentioned on the sleeve as an influence, Incredible String Band, but in general Heron don't exhibit much of the endearing strangeness of ISB.
On disc two highlights for me include "Love 13 (Lone)" and "Minstrel And A King", alongside "Winter Harlequin". The band themselves say that "Twice As Nice And Half The Price" should really have been edited down to a strong single disc album in its day, and I agree with that. In my opinion the cover versions should have been the first to get the chop, so that the focus could be kept upon the band itself, and their own songs. The first time I listened to "John Brown" I was struck by the gratingly clumsy lyrics that did no justice to the heavy subject-matter being tackled, and I was surprised to discover it was written by Bob Dylan!
Anyway, I like this collection, it captures a laid-back, happy vibe, perfect for slowing down with.