Top albums of 2011, #5: Liege and Lief (1969), Fairport Convention

Described by Wikipedia as “the most important single group in the English folk rock movement”, Fairport Convention’s most widely recognised album is Liege & Lief, which in turn was voted by the audience at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2006, as “the Most Influential Folk Album of All Time”.

All of which explains why I went to the lengths of listening through it nine times in 2011 despite its failure to really grip me.  It’s an easy album to like, but I don’t find anything there to make me love it.  My gut reaction when I first listened to it was “mostly harmless”, and the next eight times through have done nothing to amend that initial verdict.  I’m quite prepared to admit that I am Just Plain Wrong here: enough people think very highly of this album that I can only assume they’re seeing something that I’m missing.  But I am missing it, despite my assiduous attempts.

When I came to choose a representative track to include in this post, the two that I found myself most drawn to were the opening, Come All Ye (which in fact is what I chose — see above) and the closer, Crazy Man Michael.  It might not be coincidence that these are two of only three original compositions on the album, the remainder being traditional songs.  Maybe traditional songs just don’t do it for me?

I suspect what’s going on here is that the actual songs are nothing special.  The sound is distinctive and immediately likeable, and it’s easy to hear that the band is tight and strong, and seems to be having fun.  But there is not much going on compositionally: they are harmonically all very simple, and none of them attempt any kind of insight.  Many of them are story songs (mostly traditional stories); but unlike, say, the stories of Richard Shindell, they don’t use those stories as windows on more universal insights.  Again: that doesn’t make them bad; it just makes them not particularly appealing to me.

So.  I praise the album with faint damns.  Sorry, it’s the best I can do.

[Buy from amazon.com or from amazon.co.uk, if you insist.  At least it’s cheap.]

Next time: something much, much better!

4 responses to “Top albums of 2011, #5: Liege and Lief (1969), Fairport Convention

  1. Pingback: Top albums of 2011, #6: The End of History (2006), Fionn Regan | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  2. I agree with your completely about Fairport Convention — I believe that they’re historically significant, but listening to them at this point in time they aren’t what I would be looking for from either traditional music or pop music.

    Listening to that cut, I’m reminded of a line from a review of Passenger 57 which addressed the question of how Wesley Snipes performed in his first leading role and as one of the very few black leading men at that point and concluded, “he plays it cautious.”

    Perhaps because they’re unsure of their audience or don’t know how far they can take the music without losing their credibility for performing traditional music, it just feels like they’re treating the songs with kid gloves.

    There’s no shortage of traditional songs which does offer insight or emotional punch, but it doesn’t feel like they pull it off.

    I would say, in their defense, that it isn’t uncommon for groundbreaking bands to seem dated and overly cautious in retrospect, because they do have the challenge of inventing something new.

  3. I would say, in their defense, that it isn’t uncommon for groundbreaking bands to seem dated and overly cautious in retrospect, because they do have the challenge of inventing something new.

    True.

    Which makes it all the more astonishing how fresh the Beatles still sound.

  4. Pingback: Top albums of 2011: the final results | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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