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Fairport Convention - Jewel In The Crown CD (album) cover


Fairport Convention


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3.76 | 16 ratings

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Easy Livin
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Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Hot stuff

Although this album was recorded in 1995, it is one of Fairport's latest studio albums. The line up which recorded it had been together since 1985, and thus represents one of the most stable times in the band's career. The album title is take from both a favourite Indian takeaway of the band, and from the first track on the album. That first track, written by folk singer Julie Matthews, describes a no-holds-barred history of the British Empire. Simon Nicol's distinctive lead vocals, which dominate most of the tracks, suit the song well.

"Jewel in the crown" is one of a number of songs written by or in conjunction with respected folk musicians. Steve Tilston writes two of these; "Slip jig and reels" has no jigs or reels but is a tale of seeking a new life in America. "The naked highwayman" challenges Nicol's vocal dexterity to the full, being delivered in patter fashion to a repetitive tune. Maartin Allcock links up with the great Ralph McTell to write "The islands", a song about the Shetland Islands, the most northerly in Scotland. The song parallels the long ships which arrived there in the olden days with the oil tankers which now ply their trade there. The similarity between Simon Nicol's vocal and that of McTell is very apparent here (although Ralph does not perform on the track), the song being a delightful soft refrain.

Jez Lowe's "London Danny" is another gentle but wonderfully descriptive piece. "Travelling by steam" was originally written by Huw Williams for a TV programme. The latter part of the track moves into a melody called "Swaggering boney" which Ric Sanders subsequently discovered, after appending it to the song, was also known as "Travel by steam". Rob Beattie's "Red tide" is one of the darkest songs Fairport have done for a while, but unfortunately for me it is the least distinguished here. Clive Gregson's "Home is where the heart is" has one of best melodies on the album, Nicol once again making a great job of the vocals. He song is enhanced by some fine violin work by Sanders.

The instrumentals on the album are varied and well positioned. Maartin Allcock's "A surfeit of lampreys" is a gently melodic piece while "The youngest daughter" initially follows a similar style, but develops into an upbeat jig.

There are of course the expected selection of traditional songs and tunes which are given a Fairport arrangement. "Kind fortune" originates from Newfoundland, and tells the tale of a drummer from a regiment who conquers a pretty maid by threatening suicide should she reject his advances! "She's like the swallow", another song which originates from Newfoundland, has a passing resemblance to "She moved through the fair".

Maartin Allcock and Ric Sanders are the only band members to actually write new material for the album. Allcock's "Diamonds and gold" maintains the sedate pace which dominates the album, but affords Simon Nicol the opportunity to put in one of his finest vocal performances. The Ric Sanders composed "Summer in December" is a reflective instrumental variation on the old song "You are my sunshine" with fiddle taking the lead.

"Closing time" appropriately closes the album. This magnificent number first appeared on Leonard Cohen's "The future" album, and his rendition remains the definitive one. Here, Fairport have a bit of fun with the number (Leonard Cohen? Fun? Whatever next!) adding the voices of some pub locals and the landlady to the proceedings. Such a great song will always be a pleasure to hear, even if, as in this case, the vocals are somewhat suspect.

With 15 tracks in total, the album runs to over an hour. While there is no question of any the songs being prog, I do feel that overall the way the album has been put together has something of a prog feel. The tracks seem to run from one to the next in a highly satisfactory way, making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. In some ways, I guess that is what prog is all about.

In all, this is a superbly strong entry in the Fairport discography, with a fine diversity of well composed songs and some excellent arrangements. Recommended to those who have enjoyed the music of this great band.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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