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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Fairport Convention

The Woodworm Years

Review by Steve Alspach

Fairport Convention is a cornerstone band in folk rock music, having been around since 1967 (except for a six-year respite in the early 1980s). The group was a revolving door for some of the best contemporary folk musicians of the 1960s and 1970s. The outfit in 1985, however, settled to a much more stable lineup and was able to maintain its tradition of mixing folk music with contemporary sounds. This album is a compilation of their work from the mid-late 80s and early 90s . The musicians here are: Simon Nicol, guitar and vocals; Dave Pegg, bass; Martin Allcock, guitar and keyboards; Dave Mattacks, drums and percussion; and Ric Sanders, violin.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Level Pegging
Fairport is well known for it's takes on traditional jigs and reels, but this song is a bit unusual in that Dave Pegg takes the lead.
The Hiring Fair
This is a beautiful acoustic ballad with vocals handled wonderfully by Simon Nicol.
Wat Tyler
Another story told in song, but this is much more rocked up than "The Hiring Fair." Mattacks' drumming adds to the march-tempo feel of this song, rather appropriate considering the topic of the song (marching off to do battle).
Portmeirion
From the 1986 release "Expletive Delighted," this is a beautiful instrumental waltz written by Sanders. Allcock's synthesizer fills add a nice touch to this song; and Mattacks' percussion is little more than a bell tree.
Honour and Praise
Fairport is no stranger to stories of sailing (witness 1971's "Babbacombe Lee"), and this song shows that they can still do honor to the genre.
The Deserter
Okay, sometimes this band can get a little too contemporary. It seemed every other act at the time was recording this song - Fairport thought they could do it as well. Nicol's deep and rich voice sounds good on this one, but the new-age keyboards give it a little too much polish.
Rosemary's Sister
A rather sad song about a young child who dies during a bombing in World War II England. Outside of a instrumental break, this is nothing more than Nicol's voice accompanied with a single acoustic guitar.
Red and Gold
From the album of the same name, this is another anti-war sentiment (I think we're on a theme here) about a man who witnesses a battle at a bridge at Cropredy (where, perhaps by coincidence, is where Fairport hold their annual music festival). Dave Mattacks does a good job with his dynamics - a powerful shot here, a delicate roll there - to convey the distance or immediacy of the battle to the narrator.
Summer Before the War
Another delicate acoustic ballad, the violins give this song a nostalgic feeling, as though it could have been written in the 1940s.
Con Casey's Jig / Tripping up the Stairs
The last of four songs on this CD either written or co-written by Ralph McTell, this is one of the more lively tunes on the disc. It is an acoustic guitar piece for the first three minutes, and the bass joins in for the last minute.
Claudy Banks
This is the kind of piece that got Fairport its notoriety - a rock version of a traditional English ballad. Unlike the days of old when the band would blow out the pipes, this song is much more relaxed. Many of the usual themes - going off to sea, the forlorn woman who waits for her lover's return, the mistaken news that he's dead, and the happy reunion - are all here.
Three Jigs for Jamie
Ric Sanders shows his violin prowess on this self-penned tune. This must have been quite a track to make - there are a surprising amount of overdubs on this track. The piece almost comes off as sounding like a string octet played instead of just one person.
Ginnie
This number is one of the few that are lyrically upbeat on this album. Again, the keyboards tend to get a bit schmaltzy, but Nicol's vocal delivery tends to lift this song from the abyss.
Bonus Tracks
There are two uncredited tracks on this CD. The first is an excerpt from a live show, and shows the band in its kick-your-heels-up country-rock mode, testifying that this band could do a spot at the Grand Ol' Opry and not miss a step. The other song features longtime violinist-vocalist Dave Swarbrick, which takes this track back to the late 1970s (the band broke up in 1979 when Swarbrick retired due to health reasons). This cut has a relaxed, bouncy feel to it and features one of the better mouth harp solos around.
 
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