Monday, September 17, 2007

album of the day

Liege And Lief by Fairport Convention.

I don't care what you say, there's a shockingly limited range of subjects which are made the subject of songs in the pop/rock idiom these days. Yes, love, sex, bitches, being a playa, popping a cap in some brutha's ass, all that stuff, and that's all well and good, but what about:
  • getting press-ganged into the army, deserting multiple times, eventually getting shopped by your sweetheart, court-martialled and sentenced to death, only to be reprieved at the gallows by Prince Albert who just happened to be passing (The Deserter)
  • getting picked up by the local Lady Muck outside the local church and spirited back to the baronial castle for a bit of hide-the-mediaeval-saveloy, and proving yourself every bit the equal and then some of Lord Muck in every department, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, only to be confronted by the man himself, armed to the teeth and not best pleased, and messily slaughtered (Matty Groves)
  • wandering round amiably enough minding your own business only to be confronted by a bothersome raven handing out vague prognostications of doom (it's a talking raven, by the way) which you kill in a bit of a tantrum only to find that it was a shape-shifting version of your lady friend, who is now dead - ha! that'll teach you (Crazy Man Michael)
  • or being spookily impregnated in some unspecified way by some elfin type lurking in a castle whom you then rescue from being dispatched to hell by the evil faerie queen (Tam Lin)
On a more serious note (and I touched on this a while back as well) British folk music has a bit of an image problem, but at its best it's a uniquely spooky genre, for the obvious reason that a lot of the songs still being performed were written hundreds of years ago, when one's day-to-day concerns really were more in the realm of being raped and disembowelled by rampaging Scots, Vikings, etc., or at the very least starving to death or drowning in the village pond, rather than more superficial concerns like what colour lip-gloss to wear or which particular group of Premiership footballers to get spit-roasted by. Most of the songs here are electrified versions of traditional tunes; Tam Lin in particular is based on a Celtic folk tale of some considerable vintage, and also happens to be a rollicking electric folk epic driven by the late Sandy Denny's vocals and some aggressively choppy guitar work from the great and far-from-late Richard Thompson, who, astonishingly, was only 20 at the time.

If you're only going to have one Fairport album, make it this one. The only others you might need are its immediate predecessor Unhalfbricking for songs like Genesis Hall, A Sailor's Life and the Bob Dylan cover Percy's Song, and its immediate successor Full House (after Sandy Denny's departure), solely for the 9-minute Richard Thompson/Dave Swarbrick electric guitar/electric violin duel of Sloth, which I urge you not to die without hearing, lest your life be revealed, in the final reckoning, to have been a hollow sham of a mockery of a travesty. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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