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The Best of the BBC Recordings

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Album Review

The title of this collection is a bit of a misnomer, since most Fairport Convention fans will tell you the best of the venerable British folk-rock group's recordings for BBC Radio were already compiled on the superb 1987 album Heyday (which grew from a 12-track LP to a 20-song CD when it got a digital makeover in 2002). But as a sampler of the four-disc Live at the BBC box set (which preserves every surviving radio session Fairport recorded between 1967 and 1974), this effectively skims the cream from the material that didn't appear on Heyday, and strikes a graceful and effective balance between the familiar and the unexpected. There are live-in-the-studio versions of some of Fairport's better-known songs here, including "Meet on the Ledge," "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," "Tam Lin," and "Rosie," but you also get "Nottamun Town" dressed up with Indian percussion, a jazzy take on Sandy Denny's "Autopsy," and Simon Nicol rather than Sandy Denny taking lead vocals on "The Deserter." The set also focuses on what's generally considered Fairport Convention's strongest period, when Denny and Richard Thompson were both in the group, though a handful of tracks document lineups in which neither appeared and prove that even without the band's "stars," Fairport remained a consistently strong and exciting band. You'd be hard-pressed to find a funkier set of jigs and reels than the version of "Dirty Linen" featured here, the recordings of "Now Be Thankful" and "Meet on the Ledge" boast an esprit de corps that tops their studio counterparts, and the closing takes of "John the Gun" and Bob Dylan's "Down in the Flood" confirm that Denny's second tenure with the band was just as impressive as the first, if not as widely acclaimed. Fairport Convention obsessives will be satisfied with nothing less than the full box set, but more casual admirers will discover plenty of buried treasure on Best of the BBC Recordings, and it's a fine beginners guide to the riches found in the larger collection.

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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