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The Incredible String Band - The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion CD (album) cover


The Incredible String Band


Prog Folk

3.95 | 61 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars This album was published in 1967, ie it's coeval with Sgt Pepper and The Piper, we are in a pre-prog era, where pop groups, in this case a pop-folk group, played melodic beat songs mixed with pischedelia and Indian ragas. This album, in short, is a folk album with psychedelic and raga overtones.

It is not a prog album.

That said, this folk (and freak) album is truly sensational and iconic from the year 1967, we may consider it the folk version of Sgt Pepper (pop album) and The Piper (psychedelic album).

As is known, the ISB is the fusion of two songwriters who share songwriting and singing, a bit like Lennon and McCartney. The more inspired of the two is undoubtedly Robin Williamson.

Let's go.

Side A 1. Chinese White (3:40) It is a slow folk song by Mik Heron led by the acoustic guitar and a string instrument that seems to me similar to the violin: I suppose it is the bowed gimbri played by Williamson. Rating 7.75.

2. No Sleep Blues (3:53) Williamson's nasal voice is colder and more English than Heron's warm voice. This second folk song is more narrative and rhythmic than the previous one and enhanced by the flute. The guitar has some finger-picking passages. Donovan is around the corner. Vote 8.

3. Painting Box (4:04) Heron sings a ballad with double bass and a sitar-like sound that I can't identify. The arrangements close to being the pearl of production because the instruments move on a carpet of free folk music (Astral Weeks, the year after, is a relative). Rating 7.5. 4. The Mad Hatter's Song (5:40) This song is a psychedelic raga thanks to sitar and tamboura (Soma) and it is the album's first masterpiece. Here we are going towards Shawn Phillips, Williamson improvises a theatrical piece with a country & western saloon music (J. Hopkins at the piano) that stops before the third minute. This is a generational anthem. And it is a decidedly "porogressive" piece. The only flaw is that a solo is missing. Rated 8.5.

5. Little Cloud (4:05) Heron moves the arrangements with percussion (Williamson), churning out another very narrative ballad. More traditional piece but always beautiful. All inspired songs so far. Rating 7.5

6. The Eyes of Fate (4:02) An emblematic title for a song-elegy where Williamson's singing leads the music, thanks to changes in tempo and atmosphere. This is also a proto-prog song thanks also to the choir present in the middle of the track. Wiliamson shows his singing skills by performing remarkable vocal progressions. Another peak of the album. Rated 8+.

The second side sees Williamson prevail over Heron.

7. Blues for the Muse (2:49) is a bluegrass characterized by Williamson's harmonica and singing, a perfectly successful traditional piece. Rating 8.

8. The Hedgehog's Song (3:30) Heron responds to Williamson with another guitar and percussion (played by Christina McKechnie) ballad. The best part is the finger picking of the guitar. Heron's singing is reminiscent of Dylan. Rating 7.5. 9. First Girl I Loved (4:55) Once again the quality of the music goes up when the songwriter is Williamson. The freer arrangement, the more modulated and courageous singing make his songs a small fre-folk masterpiece that approaches those of Tim Buckley and Shawn Phillips, except that Williamson is ahead of them. Double bass (Danny Thompson) has a strong role in this song. This track, with a less refined arrangement than the others, still remains on good levels thanks to its singing. Rating 7.75.

10. You Know What You Could Be (2:46) Short song, almost a folkloric dance, marked by the mandolin. Very good final tail with flute and percussion. Rating 8. 11. My Name Is Death (2:46) Funeral lament guitar and vocals. Williamson displays his gifts with ease, without fear of boring the listener. Crystal clear beauty. Rating 8.

12. Gently Tender (4:49) Heron's pastoral ballad with excellent arrangement, especially Williamson's flute. This song is less narrative than its previous ones and more lively, it remains his best, the only one at the height of Williamson's peaks. Williamson's unison and counter-melody choirs to embellish it with a "progressive" vocal passage. Very nice. Rating 8+.

13. Way Back in the 1960s (3:11) Last blues song for Williamson, who prefers to be more folksinger and less psychedelic goblin on the second side. He also mentions Bob Dylan and in fact one of his vocal progression recalls It's Alright Ma. Rating 8.

Total Time 50:10

The album as a whole exalts more than the qualitative value of the individual songs, the beauty of this music is enhanced by the sequence of these songs (with no flaws, no weak passages), by Williamson's singing, by the general atmosphere and by the refined and fantastic arrangements.

Small masterpiece.

Rating 9. Five Stars.

jamesbaldwin | 5/5 |


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