This week, we’ll be taking another dip into the folk selections on the list, after previously covering some here. Still a few more folk records on the list, but not enough for a third visit, so we’ll have to meet those along the road like a magician in a folk song.
Joan Baez, ‘Joan Baez’ (link)
Recorded in a mouldering theatre where you could do all your tracks in one take “unless a dog ran in”, Baez’s only appearance on the list sees her almost solely accompanied by her own guitar picking. The material is traditional songs, including ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and a Spanish-language cut, ‘El Preso Número Nueve’. Baez’s quavering soprano is full of feeling but the stark minimalism makes it feel as old as it is (released in 1960).
Billy Bragg, ‘Talking with the Taxman about Poetry’ (link)
You or I can probably imagine what most Billy Bragg albums sound like: just the king of the Glastonbury Leftfield tent and his guitar. Indeed, his first two albums were nothing more than that. Here, he broadens his sonic palette a bit to include a rhythm section, a mandolin, and Kirsty MacColl on vocals, sandpapering some of the coarseness from Bragg’s bolshy delivery. Recorded in 1986, this is both lyrically and musically a very 80s album (and not just because there’s a song called ‘There Is Power in a Union’), but it’s pretty listenable.
Donovan, ‘Sunshine Superman’ (link)
In the same way that the Bragg album couldn’t have been recorded in any other decade, this album could only have been recorded in 1966: there’s a song for solo tambura, a harpsichord features prominently, and the session hacks include a pre-Zep Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. More a psychedelic rock album than strictly a folk one, this invokes the images of swinging Carnaby Street in summer. ‘Legend of a Girl Child Linda’ sounds kind of like Nico’s ‘Chelsea Girl’, ‘Guinevere’ gets a bit cutesy-mystic for its own good, but the upbeat feel of the majority of the tracks is worth a recommendation.
Fairport Convention, ‘Liege and Lief’ (link)
Fairport weren’t resting on their ‘Unhalfbricking’ laurels, putting this one out just six months after its predecessor (they’d put out ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ at the start of the year too, meaning 1968 had three FC albums). Based mainly around traditional English folk songs, it’s the contributions of Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson that set them apart from the pack. Denny’s voice, songs and choices of trad songs mean that they don’t get bogged down too much in blokey rocking, but Thompson’s robust guitar playing adds muscle where it would be tempting to concede the stage to Denny’s floaty voice. Another killer album by the member-fluid collective, this is alas their final appearance on the list.
John Martyn, ‘Solid Air’ (link)
I got an advance preview of this album this week when I was in a pub in Bristol, surrounded by cats (literal cats, not cool jazz dudes) and somebody put this on the turntable. It sounded pretty cool, but it killed the atmosphere, as we went from ‘Are You Experienced?’ to the minimalist folk-jazz of the title track. Listening to it at home reinforced the feeling that this is a pretty far-out album. ‘Don’t Want To Know’ sounds like the sort of jazz-tinged soft-rock that Steely Dan would later make their trademark, while ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ is an old blues cut arranged for clavinet and delay pedal. The occasional Rhodes piano (always too high in the mix) and synthesizer (!) add to the disorientating feel of the album. I’m not sure I definitely loved this – Martyn’s husky, bluesy mumbling seems like an acquired taste – but further listens will no doubt be worthwhile. Give this a listen.
Pentangle, ‘Basket of Light’ (link)
Sort of a supergroup of folksters, Pentangle (or ‘The Pentangle’) are best known for the interplay between guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch (we’ve met Jansch before). Their material is kind of jazzy folk, while sitars and glockenspiels give the arrangements a psychedelic tinge and Jacqui McShee’s spooky vocals give the whole affair a ‘Wicker Man’ vibe. This album, only 40 minutes long, felt like it went on for a long time.
Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bookends’ (link)
One of these “first half is a concept album, second half is leftovers” jobs that I’ve seen before, although I’m struggling to think of too many examples: ‘Diamond Dogs’ maybe is another. This weird record’s first proper track, ‘Save the Life of My Child’, starts with a Moog bassline drenched with reverb-heavy tape cacophony: an intro so confusing I had to check I’d put the right album on. The album also features a collage of old people’s home residents talking (‘Voices of Old People’, obviously) and a mid-song interruption apparently recorded in a grocers (‘Fakin’ It’). On the B-side, all the hits are stockpiled at the end: ‘Mrs Robinson’, ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’ (which sounds great), ‘At The Zoo’. A wild, unpredictable ride throughout. Who knew S&G had it in them?
Good week this week.
Next week: We take a look at the few artists on the list whose names start with J, Q, X or Z. Speculate now!
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