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Fairport Convention - Liege & Lief CD (album) cover


Fairport Convention


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3.78 | 134 ratings

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4 stars Released at the end of 1969, Liege and Lief is the third Fairport Convention album to come out in that almost legendary year for rock music. It is also the last album for some time to feature singer Sandy Denny (known to most rock fans as the other voice in Led Zeppelin's The Battle of Evermore), as well as their first recorded with new drummer, Dave Mattacks, after the tour bus crash that had killed drummer Martin Lamble and guitarist Richard Thompson's girlfriend, Jeannie Franklyn, in the month of May. After that tragedy, it seemed things had already come to an end for the young, promising band that - together with the likes of The Strawbs, Steeleye Span and The Incredible String Band - had spearheaded the British folk-rock movement of the late Sixties.

However, after the remaining members had recovered from their physical and emotional injuries, Fairport Convention got back in the studio, and produced what is commonly hailed as the highpoint of their career, and one of the most representative albums of that era. Much more accomplished than their earlier recordings, melancholy and subdued in mood (in spite of the occasional flares of upbeat energy), "Liege and Lief" presents a stylish image right from its cover, depicting purple-hued, cameo-like portraits of the six band members. Five out of eight tracks are reinterpretations of traditional British folk songs, while their earlier albums had been more biased towards American folk music.

With the sole exception of the instrumental "Medley : The Lark In The Morning/ Rakish Paddy/ Foxhunter's Jig/ Toss The Feathers", a series of lively, string-driven tunes meant for dancing, the songs feature Sandy Denny's pure vocal tones, allowing them to shine throughout. Sandy's sad fate is well-known in the music world, and the wistfulness underlying her singing sounds like a foreboding of her early demise (she died at 31 after a fall from the stairs, whose causes are still unclear). The anthemic opener "Come All Ye" (one of the three original band compositions) is sounds definitely more upbeat, both musically and lyrically, than most of the album; while "Reynardine" is delicate and atmospheric, with Denny's voice emoting over a somewhat sparse instrumental arrangement. While all band members, in spite of their young age, offer remarkably accomplished performances, Sandy Denny is the real star of this disc. Her crystal-clear voice is not as melodic as Jacqui McShee's, and not as earthy as Maddy Prior's, making her delivery somehow less sentimental in spite of the subject matter of many of the songs.

For the purposes of this site, as good as this album undeniably is, it should also be said that it is only very vaguely related to prog, as most of Fairport Convention's output. Those who are looking for authentically progressive folk should look elsewhere - starting with their contemporaries Pentangle, whose music is certainly more complex, even if they share most of their source material with FC. However, "Liege and Lief" makes essential listening for anyone interested in folk-rock (progressive or otherwise), and can definitely be enjoyed by most prog fans, unless they have an allergy to female vocals. Four solid stars for an excellent album.

Raff | 4/5 |


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