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

JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Fairport Convention

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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.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#178033)
Posted Thursday, July 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
SouthSideoftheSky
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Symphonic Team
4 stars Slipjigs and reels

This album is very well crafted; everything from the cover art to the production, to the instrumental prowess are top notch. The album is further helped by being weakly conceptual and it holds together really well. The concept, I take to be loosely about the British Empire and its history and imperialism, etc. But also about modern versus traditional life and values.

There are perhaps no real standout tracks like the excellent and quite progressive Wounded Whale from the previous album, but there are also very few weak spots here. The only tracks that I don't really like very much are the two last ones. These two songs are a bit too jolly and bar sing-a-long- like for my taste. But, in relation to the somewhat darker material, these songs fit in anyway. The strongest point is the variation - there is a perfect mix of instrumentals and songs. And many different moods are explored - from jolly to depressing.

Overall this album is musically and lyrically darker and more serious than I expected from this band - the title track even comments on contemporary politics (this was released in 1995 but these lyrics ring even more true today). Diamonds And Gold is about the sexual industry (I think).

The instrumental attack on this album is fairly powerful and very diverse with the usual guitars, bass, drums, fiddle and vocals being augmented with mandolin, accordion, tambourine, bodhran, lap steel guitar, piano and various keyboard and percussion instruments and more. The backing vocals are also strong. The album is much more consistent than the previous Five Seasons. The instrumental jig A Surfeit Of Lampreys is probably the closest to Prog that we come on this album. This piece is also one of the few pieces on this album that the band wrote all by themselves - the majority of the album consisting of other people's songs and traditional material. I usually do not rate albums consisting of mostly covers with more than three stars, but I make an exception here. This is really worth it!

A very good album, highly recommended for fans of this band and of British Folk rock in general, and fans of Prog Folk might enjoy it too - I certainly do!

Now, I will try to find some of this band's 80's albums.

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Send comments to SouthSideoftheSky (BETA) | Report this review (#195224)
Posted Saturday, December 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
Evolver
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Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars This recording leans way more to the folk side of Fairport Convention than the progressive side (not that Fairport Convention was ever very progressive, but they did show some elements from time to time). What we get here is just over an hour of nice British folk rock, ranging from the good to the very good.

Lyrically, the album is fun and interesting, and the music is mostly upbeat. And I must agree that the last two songs are a bit of a letdown after the rest of the album. Did they run out of ideas, and just add some filler because it would fit?

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#245418)
Posted Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
aapatsos
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Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams
4 stars A jewel of 90's folk

Founder Simon Nicol leads a gifted set of musicians (Dave Pegg and Maartin Allcock among others) to the production of a versatile record. With a few exceptions, Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks have been with the band since the 70's and the line-up has been the same for the 5th consecutive studio release - a feature I have noticed is definitely not common for Fairport Convention!

The band delivers here mature folk music, well-worked compositions with the right amount of cynicism, sarcasm, melody, virtuosity and many more characteristics. Songs like the title track, Kind Fortune, Travelling by Steam provide the more joyful, clever and sarcastic aspect of this album. On the other hand, Diamonds and Gold, The Islands and Summer in December fill the air with beautiful melodies and slow nostalgic folk tunes. The tracks of such approach bring in mind a 90's Camel-esque feeling. Nicol's voice plays an important role, sounding mature and well-balanced between the 'folkier' and mellower moments.

The ''proggiest'' moments appear in the instrumentals A Surfeit of Lampreys and The Youngest Daughter, both being among the most enjoyable moments of the album and the former definitely being a highlight of excellent musicianship. Apart from these two tracks, there are no - strictly speaking - further moments of progressive folk but the variety of moods and sounds definitely compensates for this ''deficiency''.

90's Fairport Convention sound quite different than the 70's band but the ''progression'' of the sound should appeal to most fans of (not necessarily prog-) folk music, as this is a rather enjoyable effort.

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Send comments to aapatsos (BETA) | Report this review (#282394)
Posted Monday, May 17, 2010 | Review Permalink

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