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Fairport Convention - Liege & Lief CD (album) cover


Fairport Convention


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3.78 | 136 ratings

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5 stars Finally we come to Fairport's jewel in the crown, the very celebrated Liege and Leif album from 1969. Is it worthy of it's accolades? That depends on if you like or hate the album, ultimately, as negative opinions always seem to miss the fact the fact this album is responsible for creating another folk rock subgenre. Nay Sayers also seem to miss the fact that this album is quite good, if not perfect, with first rate musicianship.

In a nutshell, Fairport took staid but interesting unaccompanied British folk standards and set them to very dramatic rock music while interfusing it with deft fiddle playing in order to give it all a rustic appeal. And for these songs it works well. The only song to resemble a conventional rock song is the lead off track "Come All Ye'" with it's conventional verse and chorus structure. The rest have the harder job of holding one's attention on longer narrative based ballads that display little change in the song's musical structure. This was easily accomplished by picking some truly interesting songs and having them sung by the one and only Sandy Denny, who could probably have made vocal exercises sound fascinating, such is the beauty of her voice, phrasing and delivery.

The production of this album is nothing to write home about, sounding quite dull and congested like demo recordings would. However, the less musically dense songs come off best as is the case with the highway bandit ballad "Reynardine", that features economical washes of guitar, bass and whooshing cymbals. This song, turned into a lycanthropic tale by folklorist Cecil Sharp, is absolutely sublime and, more then "Come All Ye", really sets the tone for the album. Following directly is the magnificent tale of betrayal and murder that holds one spell bound through five minutes of dramatic story telling to go along with it's propulsive bass and drums. This song, "Matty Groves", is the highpoint of the album and concludes with a dramatic instrumental coda featuring Richard Thompson's lead guitar kept melodic company by the late great Dave Swarbrick's violin. Swarbrick is more in a supporting role on this album and unfortunately that keeps a song like "Matty Groves" from turning into a progressive tour de force as the songs found on Fairport's follow up album Full House, but it's damn close.

"Farewell, Farewell" is an emotional ballad with lyrics written by Thompson around the melody of the traditional song "Willy O' Winsbury". Denny sells this song in a way that no one else ever could, while it's Spartan musical arrangement once again let's the song shine. The dramatic traditional ballads "The Deserter" and "Tam Lin" follow and the latter song, with long verbiage, would tax many without the dramatic stop/start rhythms and slashing electric guitars that keep it interesting. Both songs are placed around the first of Fairport's recorded jigs and reels simply titled "Medley", which is only a warmup for the ballistic hyper instrumentals that would follow on subsequent albums. The album concludes with the melancholy "Crazy Man Michael", which was written by Thompson and Swarbrick and fits the album perfectly being a tale about a man who murders his lover.

Liege and Leif is not without it's faults but it's virtues and accomplishments put it firmly in the 5 star category.

SteveG | 5/5 |


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