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FOREST

Forest

 

Prog Folk

3.05 | 30 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Forest is a band that I think sometimes gets elevated a bit by revisionist history when it comes to progressive folk. This and their other album were originally released on Harvest Records, and this one was recorded at Abbey Road where John Peel reportedly doted on the band. The originals are near impossible to get your hands on today without a fairly fat checkbook, but both albums were reissued by Beat Goes On in the nineties as a much more accessible 2CD set. This debut was also reissued by Radioactive Records on both CD and on limited-issue vinyl, and both these can be had pretty easily.

As near as I can tell these three guys must have a friendship that dates back to their youth, as they have some documented history dating to 1966 as the Forester of Walesby, and there is an impossible-to-find single from the group that was released around 1968 or so. This album was recorded and released about a year after that.

The music here has a medieval feel to it, and the combination of flute and acoustic instrumentation, multi-part harmonies, and lyrics about fairies and lovers and firing up a fatty combine to place this squarely in that latter sixties as a mildly psych-influenced brand of mellow wyrd folk. These guys got some decent attention in the studio it appears though, perhaps from Peel, or maybe Paul McCartney wandered over between takes of “Here Comes the Sun” to bogart a spliff and lent his two cents to the production. Who knows. The result in any case is a decidedly sixties trippy folk album that weathers the test of time about as well as all those old Deadhead Earth moms who crowd the free clinics today looking for their insulin and methadone treatments.

Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh. These guys were certainly sincere in trying to lay down some light, fantasy folk with lots of love and flowers and warmth-for-humankind themes, and on that count they succeeded. They also found themselves admired by a select few industry types and other musicians, but only managed to stay together for a few years after this release before fading away. The album and the band would have been far more successful had this release come out in 1965 then in 1969, but we don’t get to choose when we are born so it is what it is.

Musically this is a fun album to listen to as long as it is taken for what it is: a psych-and-patchouli driven thing that had nearly become and anachronism by the time it was released. The musical quality is very good though, with each of the trio working multiple instruments and the instrument selection itself lending well to the aura of the album: mandolin, cello, harpsichord, harmonium, flute and various pipes, and little bits of embellished percussion throughout that add to the mood of a romp through the woods on a warm summer afternoon with a lover.

The individual songs are a mixed-bag. “Do you want some smoke?” for example has a lazy cadence and flat deliver that suggests the band had plenty smoke to share at the time they recorded this. “Bad Penny” has nice vocal harmonies and pipes but sounds an awful lot like the post-Mod Moody Blues’ first two albums – I keep wanting to chant “Go now!” every time I hear this one.

The tempo and instrumentation of “A Glade Somewhere” makes it sound a bit like a Fairport Convention tune minus Sandy Denny, while the male vocals actually remind me just a bit of Dylan around the same period.

One of my favorite tunes is the languid “Nothing Else Will Matter” which has some pleasant strumming acoustic guitar, great three- part harmonies, and just the right dose of electric harpsichord to push it out of the sixties and suggest the band might have had more of a future had they evolved that sound instead of fracturing into the three-part experiment that become their second and final album.

Today Martin Welham performs with his son Tom as “the Story”, although I don’t get the impression they make a living with that. Derek Allenby has a band called Southernwood which also features his wife Cathy. I’ve no idea with Adrian Welham does, but I’m sure there’s music in that life somewhere.

This was a very good progressive folk album in 1969, even though nobody was calling it that then. It’s still good, but doesn’t hold up over time quite as well as some of the classic recordings of that day, largely because the arrangements and lyrical themes expressed here were already becoming outdated even as the band recorded them. So three stars is fair, and if you had to pick one of the band’s two albums I would make it this one.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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