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Rags, Reels & Airs

Dave Swarbrick

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Album Review

This is an album that could really only have come from the late '60s, offering Swarbrick a free hand to range through many styles of music. The focus, quite naturally, is on folk music, and his playing is never less than superlative throughout. The backing by Martin Carthy, whose guitar work has always exuded subtlety, offers an excellent foil — but then by this point, the two had already developed an empathetic relationship which continues today. What's most fascinating is Swarb's dipping his toe into ragtime music — the only real occasion on record. But both the curiously titled "Dill Pickles Ray" and "Porcupine Rag," played with panache and true verve, suggest he should do more. On those cuts, Diz Disley, best known for his jazz playing, steps in behind and offers some very full accompaniment. But it's just one of several very pleasant surprises on this disc. Considering he was just 24 when this was recorded, Swarbrick had already completely come into his own as an instrumentalist — just listen to "The Salamanca Medley," delivered completely solo to hear his mastery — combining ideas old and new. There are also plenty of outings for his mandolin playing, rarely heard since, and that's a shame, since he offers plenty of invention and dexterity to pieces like "Bottom of the Punchbowl/The Swallow Tail." And then there's the unusual eight-string fiddle, with its four drone strings to offer a rich depth to material like "Villafjord." The double-tracking on "Spanish Ladies Medley," "Staten Island," and "Jimmy Allen" give Swarb a chance to explore more ideas and harmonies, which he does with relish. Some clear, sympathetic production from the great Joe Boyd means it sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released. It might not be widely known, but this album deserves to be a classic in its field.

Biography

Born: 05 April 1947 in New Malden, Surrey, England

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

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

Dave Swarbrick is one of England's most influential fiddlers. As a member of Fairport Convention, between 1970 and 1979, Swarbrick was instrumental in the band's transformation from Byrds-style folk-rock band to its focus on updating the jigs and reels on Great Britain. Although he's continued to perform at the Fairport Annual Reunion Festival in Cropedy, Swarbrick has successfully explored a variety of outside projects as a soloist, a duo partner...
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Rags, Reels & Airs, Dave Swarbrick
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