VINE VOICEon 18 May 2014
Liege & Lief is consistently voted one of the best albums of all time. Often this is decided by mere popularity - and HK Mencken famously said, never underestimate public taste (i.e., really bad taste) - so there are many "favourites" which are not actually artistically good. This is not one of them. This album is hugely musically accomplished.
Fairport carefully researched old English folksongs, many long forgotten, almost all "anon" and reworked them, with a fusion of rock. Sandy Denny's voice soars like a bird, who, together with Joan Baez, is probably the finest female singer our generation has heard. Richard and Danny Thompson's strings delight and stir the emotions.
The finest songs, [the sly old] Reynardine ("Her hair was black, her eyes were blue"), Matty Groves, ("How do you like my featherbed, how do you like my sheets"), Tam Lin ("And I ride on the white steed"), complete with a Faerie Queen (!), Crazy Man Micheal, who talks with the ravens, or the wonderful The Deserter ("I was handcuffed and shackled, heavy irons put on me") conjure up vivid evocations of the days of yore, knights, frisky damsels and vengeful cuckolded husbands called Sir this, that or the other, to make up the recipe of one of the greatest albums you will ever enjoy.
Strangely, though, my favourite tracks are the memorable Come All Ye, which is "only the opening track", but- hey! - how wonderfully does Sandy Denny's sheer purity of voice ring out, clear as a bell, and Farewell, Farewell, a Richard Thompson song, with Danny's bass strings, which is sung and interpreted hauntingly by Denny, is supremely moving and sits comfortably among the more ancient folksongs.
Also, strangely, my favourite Fairport record is not this one, but What We Did On Our Holidays. It was the first time I ever heard the Fairports, I was a fresh schoolgirl, recommended it by the school's hip music class students, who cooly strutted around with LP's tucked under their arms of the Nice, Led Zeppelin & Ten Years After (and, of course, Django Reinhardt) I am thus always blown away by it as it recalls my initiation into the Fairports.
Leige & Lief comes packaged as "remastered" with two bonus tracks, Sandy Denny's vocal version of Sir Spens, and an outtake of The Brotherhood. This results in a price hike to £7.99. However, many will have the original as vinyl or a CD Rom, so will reluctantly fork out.
I could listen to this album every day, and never tire of it.