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The Incredible String Band - The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter CD (album) cover


The Incredible String Band


Prog Folk

3.42 | 58 ratings

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3 stars This isn’t the first Incredible String Band album (it’s actually their third), but it is the best place to start getting to know them and their music. I didn’t know anything about these guys back when they were still together, and when I first heard their debut years later I dismissed them as another contemporary folk band with one foot in the past in the vein of Dando Shaft, Heron, Robin Lent, etc. That turned out to be a mistake.

While ISB’s debut is a fairly unremarkable folk affair featuring banjo and mandolin and the rather elusive Clive Palmer, Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter has all the marks of the late sixties on it, plus evidence that the musicians were more than just a handful of high hippies tripping out on studio tapes like so many of their contemporaries.

Robin Williamson was back from an extended journey to Morocco with his girlfriend Cristina “Licorice” McKechnie after the breakup of the original band, and he had brought some toys with him. He and Mike Heron reformed under the name Incredible String Band, but the music was about as different as ‘Please Please Me’ was from Sgt Pepper’s. The band’s second album had moved further into acid folk territory and the instrumentation reflected both Williamson’s Celtic roots and his growing interest in spiritual mysticism and eastern music. Here the transition of the band is even more complete, with Williamson adding finger cymbals, a water harp and chahanai to the oud, gimbri and sitar he had brought back from the East. The band also employs heavy use of a harpsichord and Jew’s harp as well as hammered dulcimer, and a couple of organs. So the sound is much richer than either of their previous works, and while at times the arrangements seem like a bit disjointed (see the lumbering “A Very Cellular Song”), for the most part the band does an admirable job of layering the various instruments’ outputs to achieve an engaging sound.

Williamson and Heron were also experimenting with various forms of modal tuning ala some of the stuff Ry Cooder, Robbie Basho and the tastefully name Clem Alford were into in the same period. This results in some of the western string instruments taking on the same tones as the sitar and oud. The singing goes this route as well, which makes some of the vocals tracks sound more like almost constant monotone droning with tonal variations corresponding to rhythm changes. This isn’t particularly melodic music, but it is an interesting style to listen to.

The best track is the opener “Koeeoaddi There” which manages to both be a sitar-driven tune and still sound slightly melodic, mostly thanks to Williamson’s acoustic guitar and vocals. The band would start to wander and experiment from here on out.

At times Williamson goes a little over-the-top, like on “Waltz of the New Moon” where his vocals are almost minstrel-like and floating directly on top of the mandolin and flute organ note-for-note. This would be interesting as a transitional piece, but on a five minute long song it gets just a bit tiresome. “The Minotaur's Song” suffers just a bit for the same reason.

On the other hand “Three is a Green Crown” has great use of the sitar (with Heron playing it), and “Swift as the Wind” has a great persistent guitar rhythm track that gives continuity to the oddly inflected vocals coming from Williamson.

I kind of wish I had known of this band thirty-five years ago so their music would be more familiar. Then again, it’s always fun to discover old music today and try to understand the thought processes those musicians went through that resulted in the albums they released. For Incredible String Band just reading about the histories of their various members makes it obvious how they arrived at the place of ‘The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter’. I can’t quite bring myself to give them four stars mostly because the album doesn’t age particularly well, although I can imagine folks who have known them for years would probably think differently. Anyway, a very high three stars and recommended to just about any prog folk fan.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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