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The Incredible String Band

Prog Folk

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The Incredible String Band I Looked Up album cover
3.10 | 11 ratings | 1 reviews | 10% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1970

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Black Jack Davy (3:59)
2. The Letter (3:08)
3. Pictures in a Mirror (10:43)
4. This Moment (6:07)
5. When You Find Out Who You Are (10:58)
6. Fair as You (6:27)

Total Time 41:22

Line-up / Musicians

- Robin Williamson / guitar (3-5), violin (1,3), flute & guimbri (6), percussion (3), vocals
- Mike Heron / guitar (1,2,4,6), harpsichord (2), piano (3,5), organ (3), vocals
- Christina "Licorice" McKechnie / bass (1), drums (5), vocals
- Rose Simpson / violin (1), bass (2-5), vocals

- Dave Mattacks / drums (2)

Releases information

Artwork: Janet Shankman

LP Elektra ‎- 2469 002 (1970, UK)

CD Hannibal Records ‎- HNCD4440 (1994, UK) New cover art
CD Elektra ‎- 7559 62760-2 (2002, UK) Remastered by Giovanni Scatola; original cover
CD BGO Records ‎- BGOCD1166 (2014, UK) As above

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND I Looked Up ratings distribution

(11 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(10%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(30%)
Good, but non-essential (60%)
Collectors/fans only (0%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by ClemofNazareth
3 stars This album is a toss-up for Incredible String Band. On the one hand there are a couple of classic ISB songs here; but then again there are a couple of turds as well, so I guess on the balance this should be considered an average (but certainly not exceptional) album. Well let’s see if that’s how this plays out…

ISB were on a downward slope by this point in their career, although I’m not sure everyone in the band understood this at the time. Times and tastes were changing of course, as were relationships among the group’s members. What was once a pair of couples were now simply four musicians, with Mike Heron and Robin Williamson’s amorous links with Rose Simpson and the increasingly odd Licorice McKenchnie having come to an end. The four of them had ensconced themselves in a communal home near Innerleithen by this point, but their attentions seem to have been shifting to theatrical performances more so than exploring more complex and innovative acid folk (hence their soon-to-come ‘U’ release). A year later the band would go electric, and shortly after that Simpson would be gone, followed by McKechnie who would end up wandering off into the southwestern Mojave Desert some years later and disappear altogether. Surprisingly this would end up being one of their most-reissued albums for some reason though; the one I have has a different cover, a fuzzy multiple-exposure portrait of the band – I believe the cartoon-like cover was from the original vinyl.

Like I said though, there are a couple of worthwhile tunes despite an overall rushed and haphazard feel to the album. The closing “Fair as You” is one of the most Williamson- sounding tunes Mike Heron ever wrote, a tender, slow piece with simple piano, both ladies singing and just enough flute/recorder to qualify this as proper folk music. And speaking of Williamson, "Pictures in a Mirror" is quite ambitious and inventive in its weird tempo shifts and uneven sonic qualities, which is quite a statement considering the man’s penchant for twisting poetic folk music into knots throughout his band and solo careers.

Mike Heron “The Letter” is brief and unremarkable in my opinion, although Heron has been known to point to this as his favorite song of that period. I personally think it sounds like Ric Ocasek fronting an acoustic proto version of the Cars myself. Come to think of it, there was an early folk album around this time featuring some of the musicians who would end up forming the Cars (mental note to look that one up some time). Heron also penned the opening track “Black Jack Davy”, probably inspired by the 18th century British folk ballad “The Gypsy Laddie”, a song that has been oft-recorded including under the same title as Heron’s song. The band would release a shorter version a couple year’s later on their ‘Earthspan’ album.

Williamson delivered another ten-minute plus wandering composition (“When you find out who you Are”) which is somewhat similar to "Pictures in a Mirror" but with a little less wordless moaning from the ladies in the band. I have an album from the band Fire on Fire (formerly Cerberus Shoal), and I suspect the tune “Haystack” was at least partially inspired by this or a similar ISB song.

Heron wrote four of the six songs on the album, the other being “This Moment” which again is unremarkable although stellar in comparison to what the band would sound like by the time they wound to an end with “No Ruinous Feud” and “Hard Rope and Silken Twine” in the mid-seventies.

This ranks around the middle in an ordered list of the band’s best albums, and as such it deserves three stars as a decent record. But for those who are not accustomed to ISB’s sound, I’d strongly recommend picking up their second through fourth albums to get a sense of how innovative and powerful their music was at its peak first. If you’re still interested after that, this one may find a fitting place on your record shelf as well.


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