Tag Archives: folk

186. Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

After The Gold Rush - Neil YoungAs I mentioned in my previous review, Neil Young was a hard sell for me back in my youth. The ‘godfather of grunge’ was a singer-songwriter with a weird whiny voice, and “After the Gold Rush”, his third solo album and the first one I ever bought, was pretty far removed from Mudhoney.

So, I bought it, gave it a couple of listens and ultimately let it gather dust. There were a few highlights to be heard, like the original version of St. Etienne’s “Only Love Will Break Your Heart”, or “Southern Man”, the song that would later get Lynyrd Skynyrd so lyrically pissed off. But ultimately, there was nothing really exciting to be found here.

It’s a misconception that I’m not alone in. When the album was initially released, it fell on critical deaf ears, with Rolling Stone’s Langdon Winner savaging it as a “half-baked pie” that he couldn’t listen to all the way through.

Time though, has been kind, and with good reason. Those pedestrian-sounding melodies open up after a while, and this album grew in time to be a critical hit, and Rolling Stone itself rated it 71st in its “Greatest Albums of All Time” poll in 2003.

The album kicks off with “Tell Me Why”, a gentle but fulfilling start that sets the mood nicely. Throughout, “After the Goldrush” is reflective, even sorrowful, but not without hope. Is it an album about loss? Heartbreak? Or simply a hymn to the end of the 1960’s?

It’s a hard question to answer, but the best insights go into the title track, a surreal but haunting piece with lyrics that have long been puzzled over, but essentially it boils down to a three-verse structure reflecting on past (“Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming…”), the present (“There was a band playing in my head and I felt like getting high.”), and future (“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying”). It’s soothing and a great example of Young’s distinctive wrong-octave singing.

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” follows “Tell Me Why” as one of the more heart-rending songs of the album, and it becomes increasingly clear that this is an album about heartbreak. From this point of view, it feels rich and multilayered. And of course, it wouldn’t do not to plug the gorgeous Saint Etienne cover while I’m here (how adorable does Sarah Cracknell look in this by the way?).

The rock, and the vitriol, step up for “Southern Man”, a hard-hitting attack on racism in the south, with an early appearance by the 17-year-old Nils Lofgren on piano, and it’s followed by the charming “Till the Morning Comes”. The powerful and bleak “Oh Lonesome Me” finishes off the trinity of heart-tuggers, and the B-side is filled with more esoteric stuff, like the hopeful “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”, the beautiful “Birds”, and the charming “When You Dance I Can Really Love”. The album’s closers, “I Believe in You” and the short and folky “Cripple Creek Ferry” help realise this album’s charm.

“After the Gold Rush” is, for the most part, a gentle album, and it’s one that captures the best of Young, from heartfelt lyrics to vocal range to ability to combine country sentiments with the rock sound. He’d go on to bigger things with “Harvest” (so I’m told), but in the meantime, there’s a lot to discover here.

170. Fairport Convention – Liege and Lief

Airport Convention - Liege and LiefOh dear, more folk…

Right then let’s get this over with. Belts off, trousers down… bite the pillow…

… Oh, actually it’s not bad.

“Liege and Lief” is often talked about as the album that defined, even created the British folk-rock genre. It came hard on the heels of “Unhalfbricking”, as well as personal tragedy for the band (after their drummer Martin Lamble and friend of the band Jeannie Franklyn were killed in a car crash), and represents something far bigger in scope than their previous effort.

As far as folk-rock goes, this album is heavier than “Unhalfbricking”, with the opening track, “Come all Ye” and the powerful “The Deserter” making sure that the album’s rock chromosome gets its fair influence.

The album progresses with “Matty Graves”, a semi-tragic ballad of sexual scandal and duelling that’s reminiscent of the old folk standard “Black Jack Davey”, made famous by Jack White.

For an album mired in tragedy, tracks like the instrumental “The Lark in the Morning, Rakis” glow with life and cheer, and the album has its share of soul with the haunting album closer “Crazy Man Michael”.

But, for us kids who wanna rock, “Tam Lin” is the undoubted highlight of the album. It’s still a folk song at its heart, but it’s got guitars and riffs and drums and everything. The album’s 2010 re-release brought a performance on BBC’s “Top Gear” (no, not that one) that really goes for it.

It’s tracks like that that make you realise that there’s a lot more going on here than the usual “fiddle de dum fair maiden came a walking” bollocks that cynical old arseholes such as myself tend to attach to the British folk genre, and this is an album that’s full of life and originality. That’ll teach me to pre-judge.

148. The Pentangle – Basket of Light

148. The Pentangle – Basket of LIghtIt’s sad that I’m writing this review mere days after John Renbourn, the founder of the band passed away, just as I’m starting to discover their back catalogue. Although, to my disappointment it turns out they weren’t named in tribute to our glorious satanic dark lord, The Pentangle were a formidable folk ‘supergroup’ of the time, combining Renbourn’s guitar talents with Bert Jansch’s iconic voice and introducing the similarly iconic voice of Jacqui McShee.

“Basket of Light” wasn’t the band’s first album, and by the time of its release in 1969 they had established themselves as big players on the folk circuit. What it was though was a brave step forward for the band, combining the frustratingly familiar opening track “Light Flight” with some very nifty sitar work by Renbourn on the enchanting “Once I had a Sweetheart” and a host of other imaginative tracks.

It’s all very folky, and it takes a few listens to crawl under the cider-stained wooly jumper and really get into what’s being presented here, but there is a lot to immerse yourself into. “Sally Go Round The Roses” is lively and catchy, and while “The Cuckoo” is vaguely indulgent in its traditional (i.e. medieval cobblers) sound, it’s hard to really fault the care that went into it.

When Bert Jansch’s powerful voice appears, he’s the centre of attention, like on the closing track “House Carpenter”, but with each track there’s some fine musicianship and craft that also deserves attention.

Like I say, it’s a folk album and it’s never going to be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s worth giving this one a few listens and letting it open up.