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Fairport Convention - 'Babbacombe' Lee CD (album) cover


Fairport Convention


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3.71 | 55 ratings

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4 stars "Babbacombe" Lee gets good press in the PA reviews and that's no surprise. Fairport Convention's seventh studio album is an unusual concept album about an historical figure named John Lee. Lee was condemned to die on the gallows and escaped death three times when the trap door wouldn't open on every attempt. Strangely, the door worked fine whenever Lee was not standing on top of it. As English law decrees that no one will be subject to execution attempts more then three times, Lee's sentence was commuted to serving prison time instead.

Fairport's Dave Swarbrick thought that this turn of the century drama would make an interesting concept album and he was right. Enlisting all of the band members to writing the music, "Babbacombe" Lee starts off with a narrative song titled "Little Did I Think" and moves on from there, recounting his teenage wish to be a sailor but he was ultimately invalided out and eventually went to live and work for an elderly spinster named Emma Keyes, who he allegedly kills for some unclear reason.

The music on "Babbacombe" Lee is quite good as folk rock and well played by all but lacks any of the past progressive music passages that made albums like Liege and Leif and Full House so enjoyable. I can understand that the group focused on the narrative lyrics and did a wonderful job of clearly communicating the story to the listener, but the music seems to have suffered a bit in the process. Still the album has many wonderful highlights with the stand out songs being "John Lee", "Breakfast In Mayfair", "Cell Song" and "Dream Song." The last being especially good as it's a weirdly atmospheric song about a dream of Mr. Lee's in which a voice tells him that he will survive the attempts to execute him. It's quite out of character for Fairport but all the better for it.

As usual, guitarist Simon Nicol, bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Dave Mattacks excellently back Swarbrick's vocals and violin playing with their own instruments while greatly improving on their own lead and backing vocals through out the album. However, "Babbacombe" Lee was a very poor seller in the history of Fairport albums which led to one more departure from the group with Nicol bailing out soon after it's release.

This review is solely based on the 2004 remastered CD which, I understand, now has clearly identified names assigned to the album's songs as opposed to the vague narrative descriptions for the songs listed on the original album jacket. The sound of the CD is excellent and lets much of the nuance of the vocals and music shine through. 4 stars for this reminder that even folk rock had reached for progressive heights at one time, even if not always completely reaching them.

SteveG | 4/5 |


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