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Liege and Lief (Deluxe Edition)

Fairport Convention

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Album Review

In the decades since its original release, more than one writer has declared Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief the definitive British folk-rock album, a distinction it holds at least in part because it grants equal importance to all three parts of that formula. While Fairport had begun dipping their toes into British traditional folk with their stellar version of "A Sailor's Life" on Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief found them diving headfirst into the possibilities of England's musical past, with Ashley Hutchings digging through the archives at the Cecil Sharp House in search of musical treasure and the musicians (in particular vocalist Sandy Denny) eagerly embracing the dark mysteries of this music. (Only two of the album's eight songs were group originals, though "Crazy Man Michael" and "Come All Ye" hardly stand out from their antique counterparts.) Liege & Lief was also recorded after a tour bus crash claimed the lives of original Fairport drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson's girlfriend; as the members of the group worked to shake off the tragedy (and break in new drummer Dave Mattacks and full-time fiddler Dave Swarbrick), they became a stronger and more adventurous unit, less interested in the neo-Jefferson Airplane direction of their earlier work and firmly committed to fusing time-worn folk with electric instruments while honoring both. And while Liege & Lief was the most purely folk-oriented Fairport Convention album to date, it also rocked hard in a thoroughly original and uncompromising way; the "Lark in the Morning" medley swings unrelentingly, the group's crashing dynamics wring every last ounce of drama from "Tam Lin" and "Matty Groves," and Thompson and Swarbrick's soloing is dazzling throughout. Liege & Lief introduced a large new audience to the beauty of British folk, but Fairport Convention's interpretations spoke of the present as much as the past, and the result was timeless music in the best sense of the term. In 2007, about a year after Liege & Lief finally earned a gold disc in the U.K., Island Records released a two-disc "Deluxe Edition" of the album. Disc one features the original album remastered by Denis Blackham, and while it doesn't sound strikingly superior to the 2002 expanded CD version, the audio is certainly improved over the 1993 CD (and the original vinyl LP). Disc two features ten bonus tracks: two Liege & Lief outtakes that surfaced on the 2002 reissue, "Sir Patrick Spens" and "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood," lead off the disc, while another take of "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" also makes the cut. Most of the rest of the disc consists of BBC recordings of Fairport live in the studio in 1969, along with a fine cover of "The Ballad of Easy Rider" and a jokey medley of "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Fly Me to the Moon." Ultimately, the added material on the bonus disc doesn't seem to add as much to the package as the presence of "Sir Patrick Spens" and "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" enhanced the 2002 edition, but the original album genuinely plays better in its original eight-song sequence, and this deluxe version does boast a beautifully designed package. Fairport fanatics will want to pick this up for the rare BBC material, but the less obsessed will do just fine to hold on their copies of the 2002 issue.

Biography

Formed: 1967 in London, England

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The best British folk-rock band of the late '60s, Fairport Convention did more than any other act to develop a truly British variation on the folk-rock prototype by drawing upon traditional material and styles indigenous to the British Isles. While the revved-up renditions of traditional British folk tunes drew the most critical attention, the group members were also (at least at the outset) talented songwriters as well as interpreters. They were comfortable with conventional harmony-based folk-rock...
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