Saturday, January 9, 2016

My Favorite Prog Folk Albums - The "Classic" Era

Below are lists and reviews of albums from the 1960s and 1970s that I consider Prog Folk. To me Prog Folk constitutes music that incorporates elements of rock, classical, and jazz into what is already a folk music foundation without going too heavily to any one extreme. Because of this last requirement (that is mine and mine alone), there are albums from groups that people consider "Prog Folk artists" that I do not consider to be Prog Folk albums because that artist has used that particular album to deviate from the Folk foundation to one of the aforementioned extremes. This is okay. I respect and admire musicians all the more for experimenting and trampsing into new territories. I call it "growth." In fact, the music produced by musicians who get stuck in a rut oft-times begin over time to feel stale and formulaic. If a band that has earned the designation "Prog Folk" for an album or two deviates from the Prog Folk style of music, that is fine, too. They should be allowed to grow and experiment. Therefore, it is my opinion that no group should ever be pigeon-holed into a sub-genre "for life." The individual albums that they produce should be categorized according to a consensus of opinion with regards to the particular style(s) that it represents.
      Very few bands have produced only one kind of sound and style all the time throughout the duration of their career. Many bands started out with Folk or blues rock or even pop stylings and influences and the corresponding instruments but then evolved, experimented, were influenced or "changed" by certain experiences. John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders were changed by exposure to new spiritual/religious ideas. Ian Anderson with his discovery of the flute. The Beatles and Pink Floyd with psychedelic drugs. George Harrison and John McLaughlin with Indian music. Dylan by going electric. Brian Eno with synthesizers and advances and experimentation in sound engineering. Todd Rundgren with computers. Robert Wyatt because of an accident. Bill Nelson from intellectual study. Dave Stewart due to an inspiring partnership. Tony Levin with his discovery of the Chapman Stick. Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Trevor Horn from the Fairlight CMI. Allan Holdsworth with the SynthAxe. Bill Bruford due to Simmons electronic drums. Steve Hillage with New Age music. Ben Watt with the discovery of trip-hop DeeJaying. And the list goes on and on.

There were many folk artists from the 1960s who experimented with the new and exciting technologies that were becoming available to recording studios and sound and amplification systems, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Tim Buckley, Fairport Convention/Richard and Linda Thompson, Roy Ayers, Roy Harper, Richie Havens, Donovan, Pentangle, The Incredible String Band, The Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart, Al Stewart, The Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Bruce Cockburn, etc., etc. This willingness to be adventuresome, to experiment and grow with new technologies, is a lot of what has helped create a "Prog Folk" sub-genre of progressive rock music--sometimes it's the mere presence of drums, an electric bass, or the use of electric guitars, organ or synthesized keyboards or computer programming. The point is, these artists have been risk takers and they have been--at least at some period in their careers--inclusionists rather than the opposite.

Jethro Tull recorded many songs that are wonderfully steeped in traditional folk instrumentation and folkie blues constructions but their music is always, to these ears, representative of a blues rock band first and foremost. Frontman Ian Anderson's distinctive vocal stylings borrowed heavily from Celtic traditions. In fact, without frontman Ian Anderson's distinctive flute playing, Tull sound more like Led Zeppelin than any of their contemporaries! I doubt anyone would consider squeezing Led Zeppelin into the Prog Folk sub genre (though they, too, have several very folkie songs in their catalogue).
     Electric guitarist Martin Barre can hardly be described as a folk musician. I believe Tull's "folk" assignation came more from the minstrel/troubadour persona Ian Anderson adopted and refined for his public and stage persona. An extremely gifted poet, even his lyrics used out of date "folky" phrases and images to express commentary on modern day issues. The string of albums that made Jethro Tull a household name, including AqualungThick as a BrickA Passion Play, and War Child, contain very little elements of folk music or folk sound at all. Rather, they contain a predominance of rock, blues rock, and hard rock. Again it is only Anderson's folk-styled lyrics and vocal tricks as well as his eccentric stage appearance that lend any folk aspect to the music whatsoever. Minstrel in the Gallery and Songs from the Wood are the two only albums that, to my ears, come closest to qualifying for the Prog Folk category.



Classic Prog Folk Albums from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s



1. MIKE OLDFIELD Hergest Ridge (1976) My favorite MIKE OLDFIELD album that I happened to pick up for a dollar in a cut-out bin in the late 70s. Tubular Bells was amazing--like the Peter and the Wolf album for young people that used DAVID BOWIE for the story narration--but it seemed to garner much of its attention on the coattails of the William Friedkin film, The Exorcist. We, the public, were really unsure how much was 'hype' and association and how much of it was really critically worthy on its own merits. 
     The quiet, under the radar Hergest Ridge (which refers to a very real geographic location that I climbed while hiking Offa's Dyke on the English-Welsh border) is a much more cohesive, beautiful piece of music than Bells, and far less pretentious and show-off-y piece than its successor,  Ommadawn. Plus, it has one of my favorite melody themes of all-time--the side 2 beginning 2 1/2 minute acoustic guitar piece--which is, thankfully, repeated at the end. Yes, the "loud" bass/organ section on side two does drag on a bit, and Side 1 doesn't grab one as deeply as Side 2, but the peaceful pastoral beauty is such an enjoyable 'break' from so much of the other frenetic music (and world) happening at the same time--or at any time. Between side 2 of Dark Side of the Moon  and Hergest Ridge, it's no wonder I was so ready for Brian ENO's "Science," "Discreet," and "Ambient" albums.

DAVID BEDFORD is a genius.

P.S. I have now become familiar with Oldfield's 1979 re-master of Hergest Ridge and, while at first I found myself resistant to the added vocals, I have now become comfortable with them and understand and appreciate the more 'complete' feeling Mike must have had once he'd remastered it. I had no knowledge of the pressure and rush he was under when first composing and recording the follow up to Tubular Bells. It is even more remarkable, then, that this came out such a pastoral, medieval folkish masterpiece. And, yes, it is a masterpiece!

92.5 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.





2. HARMONIUM Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison (1976) I heard Harmonium's first album sometime in the 80s and have been haunted by their sound ever since. To see one of their albums ranked in ProgArchives' all-time top 100 was very exciting for me, so I bought it and have been listening to <Cinq Saisons> with great joy and amazement ever since. I agree:  It is a masterpiece.
     The LP has a very ANTHONY PHILLIPS Geese and the Ghost feel to it. The guitars and refreshing and unusual rhythms lure you into each song like the fireplace at an old friend's house on a cold, blustery night. The use of mellotron is sparing and often brilliantly timed---practically unexpected but always a pleasant surprise.

1. The first song, "Vert" (5:34) opens, quite appropriately, with echoes of a flute before the gentle vocals and guitars take us into the song. The song's bass and keys are a bit dated and "hoaky," and the melodies or chord sequences never really "hook" us, making this the album's weakest song. (7.5/10)

2. "Dixie" (3:26) is one of the happiest, upbeat songs I've ever heard, beginning deceptively with a very old-time 1900s folksie/bluegrass to 1920s ragtime feel to it but then, wow! Let that rhythm keep setting up the soloists all night! Brilliant! Keep pounding that piano, strumming those stringed instruments (where's the banjo?) till the neighbors fall off the porch! (10/10)

3. "Depuis L'automne" (10:25) is a masterful prog song in the vein of the early greats of Genesis and Crimson and the Moodies. The guitar & clarinet improv at the five minute mark are absolutely brilliantly supported by mellotron before vocal "ooo's" set up the song's high point: the building layers of harmonic vocals over the strumming of multiple guitars and a catchy synth riff. The vocal line that is then repeated to get to the song's end would, I imagine, be a great one to shout out with the band in a live performance, should one know French. (10/10)

4. "En pleine face" (4:51) is an amazingly well crafted song, with very mature and virtuosic commands of sound dynamics both in the instrumentation and the vocals. It has one of the catchiest outros ever, with its beautiful use of accordian, to usher us on to the "fifth" season. (10/10)

5. The "instrumental" "Histoires sans paroles" (17:12) is a simple yet convoluted piece of art with a folksy, almost-Celtic heaviness to it. Flute and woodwinds and guitars and other strings interspersed with piano/keys are the songs base instruments while mellotronics are used to tie sections together. All of this is packaged together to take one on a very innocent though tension-filled, visual journey. I absolutely love the simple two-chord climb to resolution from the 11:00 minute mark to the 14:30 climax followed by the shift with the flute into the band's collective answer. (9/10)

93.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music--and, perhaps most amazing of all:  no drums!




3. ANTHONY PHILLIPS The Geese and The Ghost (1976) Subtle. Bucolic. Crystalline. Pastoral. Mediaeval. There is not much I can say while waxing romantic over The Geese and the Ghost that hasn't already been said by other reviewers. I guess what most stands out for me when revisiting Ant's first solo album is the stunning clarity of every single instrument in the recording mixes. Amazing! No other "prog" LP that I know assembles such a seamlessly integrated ensemblature of instruments; neither does any "prog" recording that I have ever heard imbue one, whether intentionally or not--and oh so effortlessly--with the feeling that one is being surrounded by, communing with--even entraining with--Nature herself. Also, Peter Cross's artwork is among the most interesting, humorous album work ever created. I remember purchasing each Anthony Phillips album with almost as much anticipation for the hours of enjoyment of pouring over Peter Cross's artwork as the music--that and wanting to find out what "Ralph Bernascone" was up to lately--which says a lot since Ant's music has always been among my favourites. Curiously, despite Ant's talent, penchant, and proclivity for piano/keyboards, I've never quite been able to think of him as anything other than a guitarist. Apologies, Ant! More Tibetan Yak Music! Great job in collaboration, Mike Rutherford!

Five star songs:  the beautiful soundtrack-like opener, 1. "Wind-Tales" (1:04) (10/10) and longer, more developed closer, 8. "Sleepfall:  The Geese Fly West" (4:27) (10/10); the gorgeous symphonic 12-string guitar based epic, 6. "The Geese nd the Ghost" (15:08) (9.5/10); the pseudo-mediæval instrumental suite, 3. "Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times" (11:46), which is remarkable for the way in which its several emotional themes evoke its subject so well (9.5/10); the heart-wrenching, orchestrated love song (sung by Ant himself), 7. "Collections" (3:05) (9/10); the Renaissance love song, 4. "God If I Saw Her Now" (4:15), in which Vivienne MacAuliffe and Phil Collins sing the duet (9/10), and; the first of the Phil Collins vocal songs, 2. "Which Way The Wind Blows" (5:38), which is most notable for its beautifully textured layers of guitars and keys (and no drums!) (9/10).


Four star songs:  5. "Chinese Mushroom Cloud" (0:48) (8.5/10)


Check out "Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times" (12:09) and "The Geese and the Ghost" (15:51) to see what I mean.

92.14 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a true masterpiece of folk-infused symphonic progressive rock.





4. ALAN STIVELL Renaissance of the Celtic Harp (1972)

Renaissance of the Celtic Harp is an album that was recommended to me by the music reviewers in the magazine Audiophile and for which I have always been extremely grateful as I consider it a masterpiece of beautiful melodies and one of the earliest successes at putting Celtic music to electric rock band accompaniment.

1. "Ys" (8:49) is the proggiest song on the album opening with gentle waves on the beach sounds followed by some gorgeous chord sequences and eventually joined in by with double bass/cello and hand drums, and wooden flute. (10/10)

2. "Marv Pontkalleg" (3:34) is a stunningly beautiful song performed on solo harp. (9/10)

3. "Extraits de manuscrits gallois: Ap Huw and Penllyn" (2:58) is a pretty if odd-tempoed piece for solo harp. (8/10)

4. "Eliz Iza" (2:56) is an amazing little piece with the support of chamber strings, choir, and, at the end, bagpipes, drums and electric bass. (10/10) 

5. "Gaeltacht Medley: Caitlain Triall/Port Ui Mhuirgheasa/Airde Cuan/Na Reubairrean/Manx Melody/Heman Dubh/Gaelic Waltz/Struan Robertson/the Little Cascade/Briagh Loch Iall/Port an Deorai" (18:53) contains one of the finest early examples of folk music integrating with the support of both classical and electrified rock instruments (organ, bass and drums). Great selection of traditional Celtic folk themes deftly joined together. (9.5/10)

Since I first heard this album in the late 1970s, I've harbored a private theory that members of GENESIS must have heard this album before they set out to do Selling England by the Pound because there are melody lines in Renaissance of the Celtic Harp that are heard note for note from the guitars in several songs on Selling England--notably in "Cinema Show," "Firth of Fifth," and "Dancing with the Moonlight Knight." Is this just a coincidence? I find that hard to believe.

93.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and another stellar example of the early successful blending of traditional folk music with non-folk rock instruments.



5. CELESTE Principe di giorno (1976)

Delicate, ephemeral weaves of guitars, bass, piano, woodwinds, and tuned percussion, all set against or accompanied by copius amounts of Mellotron and then coupled with the gentle male vocals of composer Ciro Perrino set within the music and sung the band's native tongue, Italian, make for some absolutely gorgeous music. Celeste came onto the scene with this, a concept album of gentle, pastoral music in which there is a minimum input of percussion instruments. As noted by other reviewers, the similarities to Québeçoise band HARMONIUM's album of the same year, Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison, are strong, but just as strong are the presences of countrymates PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI's early albums--especially in the intricate multi-instrument weaves--as well as the softer side of GENESIS's Trespass, and even King Crimson's first two albums (in the style of the use of the Mellotron).
     The key words here are "delicacy" and "pastoral." There is very little heaviness or barely any "rock" here. The band uses beautiful instrumental weaves to try to re-construct a beautiful day in the countryside.
     I love this album. I count it as one of the masterpiece gems of the late classical period of prog. Every song is its own gem among the king's riches, but the whole, listened to start-to-finish, is a wonderful excuse for nostalgic daydreaming. IMHO, one can never do enough daydreaming.




6. FLAIRCK Gevecht met de engel (1980) notes the welcome of violin virtuoso Sylvia Houtzager as well as the disposal of any drumming. As usual, there are no vocals, but this is an absolutely brilliant display of tightly woven acoustic folk music of the ancient Celtic acoustic kind. As many many other reviewers have said before me, though this is all acoustic instrumentation, the music of Flairck feels and sounds like the most centered progressive rock music one can find. Full of a broad spectrum of sound dynamics, melodies, frequent variations in time and key signatures, and musicians who are definitely virtuosi of their instruments, this stuff rocks, it impresses, it melts your heart.

 Check out:  2. "De Vlinder" (7:29) (10/10); 6. "Gevecht met de engel, Part II" (8:37) (10/10), and; 4. "De Stoomwals" (8:29) (8/10).




7. SHAKTI Natural Elements (1978) This album was my introduction to 1) Indian music, 2) tabla/percussion master, Zakir Hussein, 3) the (then) young violin virtuoso who styled himself as simply "Shankar," and, believe it or not, 4) John McLaughlin. Just hearing the combination of all these amazing, exotic instruments (including/especially John's custom-made guitar) was (and still is) a mind-blowing experience, but hearing them play such complicated music with such tightness, and such melodic beauty has landed this album permanently in my all-time top 20. I still get goose bumps every time I hear "Mind Ecology," "Face to Face," or "Peace of Mind"--they are that good, that powerful.


1. "Mind Ecology" (5:48) blasts you away with its amazing sonic onslaught--which seems to beckon one to take up Sufi trance dancing (the whirling dervish). (10/10)

2. "Face to Face" (5:58) is without question one of the most beautiful and technically stunning songs I've ever heard. McLaughlin's strumming, alone, takes one to another dimension! Music in absolute perfection! (11/10)

3. "Come on Baby, Dance with Me" is a lot like a brief jazz rondo piece where each of the instruments takes turns carrying the main melody line before gelling to repeat it as an ensemble. Amazing technical feat! (9/10)

4. "The Daffodil and the Eagle" (7:04) feels as if some Indian musicians are laying around in the shade on a scaldingly hot day playing some lazy blues, then getting revved up, they take each other to task, first picking up the pace, then really sitting up and trying to out do one another. Very bluesy, very McLaughlin-like. Shankar really blazes on this one. Really fun! (8.5/10)

5. "Happiness Is Being Together" (4:32) begins like something out of a Santana or South American song catalogue--a mariachi, perhaps? I get so mesmerized when John McLaughlin is strumming! Another Shankar showpiece. Or is that Itzhak Pehrlman? Wow! John, in turn, is so cool and at ease--and so Spanish! (8.5/10)

6. "Bridge of Sighs" (3:52) slows it down to a very emotional pace with a very JONI MITCHELL feel. The space in this song is its most beautiful part, where its emotion really presents itself. The musicians get to show off their instruments' subtle dynamics on this one yet not very much exciting or special happens in order to help make this one stand out. (7/10)

7. "Get Down and Sruti" (7:02) is the showpiece for Zakir Hussein--one of the world's preeminent percussionists over the past 50 years. It also introduces the vocalese call-and-response and rhythmic repetitions that become much more prominent in future SHAKTI and even John McLaughlin works (especially their concerts--of which I have had the privilege of seeing a few). Perhaps a little too laid back to garner a lot of praise. (7.5/10)

8. "Peace of Mind" (3:23) is an absolutely gorgeous song which seems to truly capture the astounding Beauty of true Peace. (10/10)

Bravo, Mr. McLaughlin and crew. Thank you for this album.

It is hard and beautiful to remember that this is an all-acoustic album and could, therefore, be repeated in concert without the aid of electricity. Something I can't help but think about in these dangerous times: What will my favorite musics sound like in a post-petroleum world? The musicians of India and artists like John McLaughlin, Mickey Hart, Ry Cooder, Flairck and Faun have already provided us with some clues to what that might be like. But rarely with the combination of beauty, joy, and astounding virtuosity of SHAKTI.

89.375 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock and one of the shining examples of pioneering the blending world musical traditions.  




8. FOTHERINGAY Fotheringay (1971) was Sandy Denny's breakaway album from FAIRPORT CONVENTION--before she went on to a solo career--and amazing record it is! She is joined by four stellar musician/vocalists—all of the male pursuasion:  ECLECTION’s Trevor LUCAS on guitars and Gerry CONWAYon drums and POET AND THE ONE MAN BAND’s Jerry DONAHUE on guitars and Pat DONALDSON on bass. This is a deceptively powerful album due to its rather soft, slow, and laconic song starts. But you need only follow Ms. Denny's incredibly emotive storytelling and the way the band joins in to build toward each song's climax before you will find yourself hooked. Only three songs are penned by Denny--and they are jewels--but the male-lead vocal songs are quite good as well.
     What makes Fotheringay such a powerful album is the amazing recording and powerful emotions in both Sandy Denny's vocals and lyrics but also all of the accompanying musicians. I just love the clarity and feel of the mix of the guitars, piano, and drums. Each and every song is artfully done, with subtle flourishes and idiosyncracies that make them so delightful to listen to time and time again. If there's a weakness in the album, it's in the recording of the vocalist’s voices—especially in songs which try to display the band’s singing in harmony like “The Ballad of Ned Kelly” (3:36) (7/10) and, to a lesser degree, “Peace in the End” (4:03) (8/10). But the listener can easily get past this as, let’s face it: there have not been many vocalists in the history of recorded music with the gifts that Sandy Denny had.
     Check out "Nothing More" (4:39) (10/10), "The Sea" (5:33) (9/10), "Banks of the Nile" (8:04) (10/10), "The Way I Feel" (4:45) (9/10), and "John the Gun" (5:06) (8/10) (from their second album of songs recorded in their 1970 recording sessions but only released as the album Fotheringay 2 in 2008).





9. STRAWBS Ghosts (1975)

Often overlooked as outside of the "classic" period of Strawbs "masterpieces," this album is so well produced, the sound so good, and the song-writing so tight and mature I find it hard to not consider one of the finest achievements of Prog Folk. As a matter of fact, as highly touted and revered former Strawbs' keyboard contributor Rick Wakeman is, I prefer the work of John Hawken. I love ways in which he combines the harpsichord, organs, piano and Mellotron better than those of Maestro Wakeman.

1. "Ghosts" (8:31) From the opening weave of multiple guitars (some 12-stringed!) and harpsichord, the amazing vocal dynamics, awesome lyrics, and excellent keyboard layering into the jam-on adrenaline bursting "Night Light" middle section of the title song, this is a prog masterpiece.  (10/10)

2. "Lemon Pie" (4:02) seems to follow the format of previous Strawbs albums in that a socially-significant pop-oriented anthemic tune is second on the album, following the opening "epic"--and "Lemon Pie" does not disappoint. It delivers with it all of the zest and vigor one would expect of Dave Cousins' best efforts--with some delightfully playful lyrics. (9/10)

3. "Starshine/Angel Wine" (5:14) opens with two minutes of nice folk rock before an almost-"Layla" electric guitar riff opens up the heavier, more dynamic second section. (8/10)

4. "Where Do You Go (When You Need a Hole to Crawl in)" (3:04) has a kind of CAT STEVENS "Peace Train/Another Saturday Night" calypso feel to it. Upbeat and bar-room appropriate. (7/10)

5. "The Life Auction" (6:52) opens with some cool piano effects which is gradually joined by a low PETER GABRIEL-like half-spoken poetic story telling before the song bursts into a full blown bombastic Very Trespass-era, "Knife" or "White Mountain"-like--complete with defiant affect and flange effects on the vocals and electric guitar "power chords." Very cool song! (10/10) 

6. "Don't Try to Change Me" (4:29) takes the listener back to a pleasant, innocent time like the Flower Child 1960s--at least until the shock of the emphatic first chorus at the one minute mark. now wide awake, we travel through the rest of the song on the nice verses fully expecting and ready for the rather abrasive shout of the chorus repeats. (8/10)

7. "Remembering" (0:59) (10/10) is a beautiful little interlude of electronic keyboard and cymbal play that turns out to be the introduction to the next song, my favorite song of theirs, 

8. "You and I (When We Were Young)" (3:59) is a Cousins-Hawken collaboration which is pure perfection to these ears and, lyrically, to my mind as well. Pop music doesn't get better than this. (10/10)

The album's finale, and a John Hawken song, 9. "Grace Darling" (3:57), is another gorgeous song founded on a rock combo with the lovely accompaniment of a full chorus throughout and, later, from an awesome church organ. (10/10)

Side 2 makes up my favorite single side of Strawbs songs and Side 1 is not too bad either. 

91.11 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-: a masterpiece of progressive rock music and, in my opinion, an exemplary representative of the best of what Prog Folk has to offer. 

 


10. PTARMIGAN Ptarmigan (1974) is an obscure, very hard to find gem from a short-lived band from British Columbia. The Folk foundations with the classic multi-part male harmonies and acoustic (lute-sounding) guitars are brought into Renaissance world by multiple hand percussives and recorders (as well as the lute sound of Monte Nordstrom's guitars). What earns this its "prog" inclusion is its European and Indian classical music influences and California psychedelia sound (and lyrics) as well as its use of electric bass--all possibly due to the influence of the album's producer, world jazz pioneer, Paul Horn. This album is truly a wonderful musical excursion with some quite complex, shifting and evolving song structures performed quite tightly. Though each song or suite of songs can be listened to in isolation, I prefer to hear the album in one continuous play. Despite the continuous high consistency throughout, there are highlights, most due to either the beautiful two- and three-part male vocal harmonies and the interesting and diverse styles of guitar playing.
   



11. HOELDERLIN Hoelderlin's Traum (1974) I like this album because it's rare that your get to hear the German language sung beautifully over and with some beautiful music. This is also a remarkably well recorded and engineered album.

1. "Waren Wir" (4:51) is one fantastic song. Starting slow and simply with piano-based music being sung over by female voice auf Deutch, there is a pause at 1:12 followed by a jazzy organ-based, flute-soloing, congo-accompanied section until a male spoken voice says something in German before musicians jam till fade. (10/10)

2. "Peter" (2:57) is standard folk fare. There are some nice chord changes and guitar picking accompanying the pretty female singing voice. (8/10)

3. "Strohhalm" (2:06) reminds me of some acoustic CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG/JONI MITCHELL only with a singular male singer, small hand drums, acoustic guitar and sitar playing very prominently. (7/10)

4. "Requiem fur einen Wicht" (6:39) is a pretty, sometimes waltzy, folk song. I especially enjoy the swirling effects created by the violins. Nice lilting female vocal from Nanny DeRuig in the middle section--with the long held notes. The middle section of militaristic drumming and violin is haunting. Then everything quiets down to a more Bohemian 'gypsy' violin and guitar duet--rejoined by flute, rhythm section and vocal at the 5:30 mark. Intriguing song. (9/10)

5. "Erwachen" (4:06) opens with recorder, piano and tambourine playing a little medieval troubadour-like song, before there is a pause for nature sounds (wolf in the woods?) The song picks back up with piano, acoustic guitar, bowed bass and tambourine playing some old folk melody--joined by Nanny DeRuig's lower, more authoritative voice from the 1:50 mark on. I'm not sure if I'm more reminded of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" or some Eastern European dirge. (8/10)

6. "Wetterbericht" (6:39) is a very spacious, bare-bones true folk song that opens with multiple acoustic guitars picking. Eventually, they are joined by Nanny in one of her best performances on the album. There is an eerie Harmonium feel to this one--with some very beautiful chord changes and an awesome Harmonium-like tempo shift at the 3:30 mark--soon after which sees the background entrance of a very spacey synthesizer moving slowly from one note to another (reminiscent of Genesis' "Stagnation" though shorter and further in the background). There is then a return to the song's original sound and structure for the last minute before it fades. (9/10)

7. "Traum" (7:26) starts with picked 12-string guitar like a Genesis song from Selling England before the guitarist switches to strumming so that the rest of the band can jump in with some awesome bass, drumming, conga, flute, and violin jamming together --and, what's this? Introducing: Electric Guitar! Strumming along in the right channel while the violinist, bass, and rhythm section jam to the 4:35 mark. Then the instrumentalists seem to each go off on their own sprees--each stuck in a tremolo mode--until 5:50 when they all are brought back together by the strumming guitar. Awesome bass and violin/cello playing! (10/10)

Great first and last songs--totally proggy--with some otherwise very nice more standard folk fare in between. 87.14 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+. This album would make an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.





12. FUCHSIA Fuchsia (1971) sounds sometimes like their own sound of YES-meets-THE WHO 'Renaissance folk rock' (on 1. "Gone with the Mouse" [4:59] [10/10]), sometimes like early MOODY BLUES (2. "A Tiny Book" [8:03] [9/10]), at others like CURVED AIR (the instrumental 3. "Another Nail" [6:57] [8/10]) and ELO (4. "Shoes and Ships" [6:14] [8/10] and 5. "The Nothing Song" [8:23] [8/10]), THE HOLLIES and HERMAN'S HERMITS ("Me and My Kite" [2:34] [8/10]) and even THE WHO ("The Nothing Song" and "Just Anyone" [3:33] [9/10])), the combination of three male acoustic rockers with a trio of female classical musicians turns brilliant with the surprisingly beautiful vocal contributions of both male and female contingents. As a matter of fact, when both are combined within the same song, that is when this surprising jewel is at its best.

88.75 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a shining example folk-founded rock music.




13. LOS JAIVAS Alturas de Macchu Picchu (1981) is the seventh release of these Chilean Prog Folk masters but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest of their output for two reasons: 1) it is a concept album based around the poems that Pablo Naruda did of the same name, and 2) a movie version of the album was filmed on site among the ruins of the ancient Incan capitol city of Macchu Picchu. The film gives the music a much fuller impact. Check it out if you can, it's breathtaking for the scenery (if a bit comical for the period clothing and hair styles).
     LOS JAIVAS is exceptional for the extraodinarily effective way in which they were able to blend traditional Andean and Hispanic folk instrumentation with the European and electrical rock instruments and effects--and Alturas de Macchu Picchu is a brilliant representation of this fact. Pan flutes, ceramic pipes and flutes, big mountain drums and horns mixed into the same weave with piano, electric bass, synthesizers, expanded drum kit and acoustic and electric guitars--with neither backing off to the other, each holding their own in the mix, in the weave--it's amazing to hear!
     The first fourteen minutes of the studio album--consisting of 1. "Del aire al aire" (2:14) (10/10) and 2. "La poderosa del muerta" (11:08) (10/10) are absolutely flawless. It is only with the festive drinking song, 3. "Amor americana" (5:26) that the choice of song styling gets a little out of my comfort zone (though many native Latin Americans would probably love and appreciate it). (7/10)
Luckily, the music gets back on track with the gorgeous multi-instrument weave of 4. "Aguila sideral" (5:19) in which bass and piano are as important as native flutes and voices. (10/10)

5. "Antigua America" (5:37) opens with a kind of multi-instrumental Native American Jethro Tull riff before solo flute and solo classical grand piano preparing us for the build and blend into the powerfully paced and dynamic themes of the body. I can't help but hear a kind of Asian influence in the melody--I don't know if this is intentional as representational of the anthropologic evidence of the arrival of Native American population from Asia via the former Bering Straits land bridge or not, but it could be. (9/10)

6. "Sube a nacer conmigo hermano" (4:47) brings us back into the realm of local, traditional Latin/Andean musical styles and rhythms. Very dynamic with the choral call-and-response sections that seems so pervasive in Latin American musical traditions.
     I would like to mention here how pianist Claudio Parra shines throughout this album. He is extraordinary. (8/10)

7. "Final" (2:33) is a gentle weave of multiple voices singing over a sea of ever shifting chords of rapid piano arpeggi. (9/10)

88.57 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+. Though not quite the equal of the video movie presentation, this music does stand on its own quite well. This is definitely a masterpiece of progressive folk rock music.




14. ROY HARPER Stormcock (1971) is an unusual folk album for the fact that it has only four songs and that they are all performed, for the most part, by one artist (no offense, David BEDFORD and Jimmy PAGE). Roy and his engineering/production team are quite creative and adventurous with their rendering of background, support, and incidental musical support throughout the album, but moreso on Side 2 with the heavy "Donovan-warble" effects placed upon Roy's voice and on he and Jimmy's guitars on 3. "One Man Rock and Roll Band" (7:23) (9/10) and on the album's highpoint, the haunting multi-faceted suite, 4. "Me and My Woman" (13:01) (10/10). (Did I mention how brilliant David Bedford is?) Despite this discrepancy between Side 2 and Side 1, Side 1 is still very good. The opener, "Hors d'oeuvres" (8:37) relies on Roy's DONOVAN-like voice dirging over a very repetitive foundation of two guitars riffing the same riffs over and over for the entire song. At the 3:00 mark background "choir" of mulit-tracked, heavily treated voices (all sounding like those of Roy, himself) begin accompanying the guitars and lead vocal. Around 4:30 an organ joins in the accompaniment in the background followed by an electric guitar solo in the final 45 seconds--after the vocal has ended. The song is also quite notable for the 5:50 point at which Roy acknowledges--in the very lyrics that he is singing--that his lyrics will most likely prevent the song from ever seeing radio play. (9/10) 2. "The Same Old Rock" (12:25) must rely more on its lyrical content for its appeal cuz, up utnil the 6:50 mark, I find it quite boring. (8/10) 

A fairly recent discovery for me, I liked it immediately and like the way increasing familiarity has helped it to grow even more in my esteem. 

90.0 on the Fishscales = Definitely a four star album, maybe even worthy of five; A-; a shining example of classic prog with a folk foundation.





15. STRAWBS 
Grave New World (1972) (Sorry for poor sound quality--this is the only YouTube link I could find for this album!)

This album puts on display a more acoustic, more raw rock version of the Strawbs. It also exhibits a more 60s-sounding production value. I happen to enjoy this less-electric enmeshed sound--it makes for a much more consistent sounding and feeling album. Though the band would peak, in my opinion, with the perfectly blended Ghosts in three years, Grave New World is a wonderful album of truly folk-founded progressive rock.

Five star songs:  powerful in its emotional sincerity yet slightly bombastic is the anger-filled lamentation, 5. "New World" (4:13) (10/10); the wonderful anthem of optimism and gratitude, 1. "Benedictus" (4:25) (9.5/10); Dave Cousins' gorgeous, sensitive folk solo, 2. "Hey Little Man... Thursday's Child" (1:06) (9/10), and; the Jethro Tull/"Norwegian Wood"/Bob Dylan-like, 4. "Heavy Disguise" (2:53) (9/10).

Four star songs:  the keyboard-driven rocker, 8. "Tomorrow" (4:49) (8.5/10); the pop harmony vocals, lyrics, and guitar base of 9. "On Growing Older" (1:56) (8.5/10); the nice Blue Weaver piano-accompanied solo, 12. "The Journey's End" (1:35) (8.5/10); 3. "Queen of Dreams" (5:32) with it's spooky middle interlude of psychedelia (8/10); the reprise of #2, 6. "Hey Little Man... Wednesday's Child" (1:07) (8/10); tho oft-verlooked anti-war song, 7. "The Flower and the " (4:18) with its wonderful harmonies and in the lead vocal (8/10); the Indian instrumented (sitar, harmonium, & tablas) George Harrison-influenced, 11. "Is It Today, Lord" (3:08) (8/10), and; the fun, Monty Python-like farming whist, 10. "Ah Me, Ah My" (1:26) (8/10).

85.83 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album; B; an excellent addition to any prog rocker's music collection.




16. CONVENTUM Le bureau central des utopies (1980) is a gorgeous folk jazz album from a group of Québec virtuosi going by the name, Conventum. The band was, unfortunately, short-lived, but this album remains as a testament to their amazing instrumental prowess. Tightly-woven ditties that sometimes feel like Celtic reels, at others like Arabic folk stories, and still others like avant-jazz, this is an album well worth your listen. There are not many syrupy, catchy melodies but brilliantly constructed harmonic and temporal weaves abound.

My personal favorites include: "Trois petits pas" (4:22) (10/10), "Chorégraphie lunaire" (8:19) (9/10), "Le reel à mains" (3:29) (8/10), and the title song (which was recorded live while the band was touring Belgium).




17. EDEN Erwartung (1978) From it's powerful and clear opening notes the listener knows that it is in store for a well-recorded, well-constructed, well-performed album. Flutes, violins and synths play side-by side with classical sounding piano accompaniment and orchestra-sounding drums with a kind of RENAISSANCE Jon CAMP bass sound. The recording of the drums, mix and style of the bass, and the slightly treated vocals give a little bit of a dated feel to some of the music--not unlike some of CAMEL's albums from the 1970s--but the fullness and maturity of the sophisticated song constructs make this a deeply interesting and satisfying listen every time I put it on. There is always something new and beautiful to discover with each listen. All songs are wonderful but the side-long epic "Ein Anderes Land" (16:26) (10/10) is a special piece--with instrumental themes and a feel that would have fans of recent MOTORPSYCHO releases and old CAMEL feeling equally at home.

1. "Spatregen" (7:15) opens with a display of quite a diverse palette of sounds coming from a wide range of instruments--all in the course of the first two minutes. By the time the strong male vocal begins we are already feeling duly impressed with this prog rock band. When the song switches at 3:30 into a more dynamic instrumental section (over which the vocalist and his choral supporters eventually sing) I find myself quite reminded of CAMEL circa 1975. The rather wild final minute comes as quite a surprise with its soaring electric guitar and saxophone playing over the cowbell- and clavinet-driven fast paced music. Wow! (8.5/10)

2. "Erwartung" (6:48) opens with some gentle acoustic guitar picking with Mellotron accompaniment over which a young man speaks as if reading the Gospel from a lectern in the middle of a church. The switch to strong electric at 1:48 doesn't work for me but it is only for a very brief few seconds before it is as quickly gone. The ensuing soft section with sitar and choral singing feels half like Quebec's HARMONIUM at their best and half the cast of Hair! This section is followed by a pleasant soft rock section over which some very nice flute playing occurs. A brief pause is filled with a return to the HARMONIUM cinquième saisons sound and feel. Then chorale and acerbic electric guitar take turns with the lead before the song finally comes to end. (9/10)

3. "Eden Tell I" (4:40) reminds me of some of my favorite music from modern artists WOBBLER and CICCADA. A song that transcends its time and era. Great music (listen to that bass!), though the vocals perhaps weigh it down a bit. (10/10)

4. "Eden Tell II" (6:17) What happened to the amazing music that was so beautifully constructed for Part I? The band has devolved into some kind of preachy church theater--strangely using some melody lines straight out of KING CRIMSON's song "The Court of the Crimson King" from 4:32-4:38 and then ending with strains of THE MOODY BLUES "Nights in White Satin." Luckily, the song builds into quite a strong song--bolstered by both the nice piano and violin based middle section over which the lovely voice of an operatic soprano and then the incredible voice of the young man in the lead throughout the fifth minute (and half of the sixth). (9/10)

5. "Ein Anderes Land" (16:26) (10/10)

93.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; A. Even if this were not a folk-founded album, Erwartung is a definite masterpiece of progressive rock music--one that was a little late to the game, but, as the saying goes, better late than never! The Christian overtones and occasional Godspell-like church theatre sections are well-suited to this music without detracting from its progginess. Well made! Deserving of masterpiece status and far greater recognition than it currently receives!




18. JOHN MARTYN One World (1977) was a lucky discovery for me at a city open air market in the city of Norwich in 1980. In one fell swoop I was introduced to the deeply moving, introspective work of this bluesy folk artist as both Solid Air and One World played over a cheap sound system while I perused the bins of albums and tapes. I bought both. Though One World's "Couldn't Love You More" (3:09) (9.5/10) was remade in 1981 for the Phil Collins-produced Glorious Fool a year later under the production guidance and instrumental ensemble assistance of one Eric Clapton (featuring Max Middleton, Alan Thompson and drummer Phil Collins in support), the original version remains a favorite of mine. For me the stunning and haunting "Small Hours" (8:44) (10/10) remains the centerpiece and jewel of the album though it is the last song on Side Two. The Echoplex guitar sound--which Martyn hung on to as a signature sound for most of his career--is used to absolute perfection here, as if the song was recorded outside, with the sound of boats and wooden docks creaking in the water.

Other outstanding favorites include:  the lovely, upbeat, STEPHEN BISHOP-like "Certain Surprise" (3:52) (9.5/10); the delightfully playful, 7. "Dancing" (3:43) (9/10); "Dealer" (4:58) (9/10); "One World" (4:10) (9/10); the funky, bluesy, worldly, 3. "Smiling Stranger" (3:32) (8.5/10), and; "Big Muff" (6:30) (8/10).

90.625 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive folk music. 






19. RAGNARÖK Ragnarök (1977) instrumental folk jazz at its smoothest and most beautiful--not at all unlike CAMEL.

1. "Farvel Köpenhamn / Goodbye Copenhagen" (2:30) (8/10)


2. "Promenader / Walks" (4:40) This is my second favorite song on this album of beautiful melodic grooves. (10/10)


3." Nybakat Bröd / Freshbaked Bread" (3:01) (9/10)


4. "Dagarnas Skum / Foam Of The Days" (8:07) (8/10)


5. "Polska Fran Kalmar / Reel From Kalmar" (0:46) 


6. "Fabriksfunky / Factoryfunk" (4:49) My favorite song on the album. Kind of like SANTANA playing CAMEL. (10/10)


7. "Tatanga Mani" (4:34) opens as an acoustic guitar solo sounding much like the wonderful harp music of Alan STIVELL--only with a little more Spanish influence in the flourishes and progressions. Then, at 2:10 flute and bass join in as the music transitions into a little more of a bluesy rock John MARTYN way. Nice bass and flute play. (9/10)


8. "Fiottot" (1:23) Rhodes electric piano chords bouncing along with electric bass and muted electric guitar--and drums! A brief, upbeat little stroll through the park.


9. "Stiltje-Uppbrott / Calm-Breaking Up" (4:21) opens with some bluesy piano play like from a smokey piano bar--before turning into a soft acoustic ELP like song with gentle flutes and picked acoustic guitars leading the way. Then, at 3:20, aggressive downstrums on the guitar and firmly plucked bass notes announce a louder message--which the flute and recorder respond to until song's end. (8/10)  


10. "Vattenpussar / Pools Of Water" (4:08) opens with fery deliberate and steady Fender Rhodes arpeggiated chords playing in a couple of minor keys. Electric guitars (one in each channel) and acoustic guitars and electric bass complete the weave. Woodwinds play separate yet harmonious melodies over the top before yield for acoustic guitar and Fender piano interplay. Beautiful, very emotional song. My third favorite on the album. (9/10)

88.89 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of soft jazzy folk-oriented progressive rock music.




20. PERERIN Haul Ar Yr Eira (1980) Except for the last song, the music on this album is not very proggy. The Welsh tongue is interesting, the troubadour-like instrument choice enchanting, but it is the voice, that amazing voice of Nest Llwelyn that keeps me pushing repeat on the likes of "Titwrm Tietwrm" and "Gloyn Byw," and, to a lesser extent, "Royal Charter"--though giving her the lead vocal, as on "Ni Welaf Yr Haf" did not please as much as when she's the accompanist. And "Pan Ddaw Y Brenin Yn Ol," the album's afore-mentioned finale, is IMHO a little prog masterpiece.

1. "Haul Ar Ur Eira (Sun on the Snow)" (3:21) has a little J TULL and THE WHO in the intro before it becomes more mediæval sounding (10/10).

2. "Titwrm Tietwrm" (3:46) (9/10).

3. I like the flange effect on the strummed 12-string during the powerful centre of "Dechrau Y Gan" (3:35) (9/10).

4. I love the electric guitar solo with pipes and channel-bouncing synth during the middle and end instrumental sections of "Can Y Melinydd (The Flour Miller)" ( 3:36) (8/10).

5. "Ni Welaf Yr Haf" (4:35) (7/10). 

6. By the time "Royal Charter" (4:35) (7/10) rolls around I'm kind of getting tired of the style and format (just as I get tired of The Decemberists after a few songs). (Though I really like the MIKE OLDFIELD-like electric guitar solo in Royal Charter.)

7. "Gloyn Byw" (3:52) has a kind of PINK FLOYD "Wish You Were Here" feel to it, along with Nest's awesome background vocals and plenty of MIKE OLDFIELD-sounding electric guitar. (8/10)

8. "Llongau Caernarfon (Carnarvon Ships)" (3:57) has a very strong MOODY BLUES feel to it. Upbeat with a great acoustic-electric mix. (9/10)

9. "Hiraeth Y Mor (Yearning)" (1:24) is a beautiful little ALAN STIVELL-like Celtic steel-stringed harp piece. (9/10)

10. "Pan Ddaw Y Brenin Yn Ol (Here Comes the Crooked Old King)" (4:08) is my favorite song overall for its 12-string acoustic guitar, whimsical piano, beautiful flute melodies and breathier vocal harmonies--as well as for the proggy synth and electric guitar and bombastic rhythm section in the second half of the song. Definitely the proggiest of all songs on the album. (10/10)

86.0 on the Fishscales = a solid four stars; B; a near-masterpiece of ethnically-orienteded prog folk music.

Though this is a collection good music and fine performances that I think Prog Folk lovers will love.




21. JOHN MARTYN Solid Air (1973) is an album that puts on display many of the directions available to folk artists. The album's opener, "Solid Air" (5:46) (9/10) with its xylophone accompaniment shows a very jazzy side. 2. "Over the Hill" (2:51) (9/10) is very bluegrass with its prominent RICHARD THOMPSON (FAIRPORT CONVENTION) mandolin contribution. 3. "Don't Want to Know" (3:01) (7/10) with its fully electrified rock band bleeds into 4. "I'd Rather Be the Devil (Devil Got My Women)" (6:19) (9/10) which is a kind of Beat/bluesy bebop jam. 5. "Go Down Easy" (3:36) (9/10) is one of those timeless STEVE WINWOOD-like beauties that wrenches the heart in a JEWEL-kind of way. Definitely a folk classic. 6. "Dreams by the Sea" (3:18) (9/10) puts a funky BRIAN AUGER-like vibe in your face. Very tight instrumental support from his support band. 7. "May You Never" (3:43) (8/10) is a guitar and voice solo song that became one of Martyn's signature songs and had the distinction of being covered by Eric Clapton four years later on his Slowhand album. 8. "The Man in the Station" (2:54) (9/10) is an edgy song that vacillates between quiet guitar and electronic keyboard to bluesy rock band to great effect. There is also an odd tension of jazz and Latin feel to the song. One of my favorites. 9. "The Easy Blues" (3:22) (7/10) is a very straightforward acoustic blues song in the vein of Robert Johnson and other Southern rockers. 
     A special shout out to bassist Danny THOMPSON for his wonderful contributions throughout the album.





22. JONI MITCHELL Court and Spark (1974)

Joni, too, explores and incorporates more electric and rock elements into her folk-based songs to produce her most successful pop album, Court and Spark (Is the title a nod to Fariport Convention and their 1969 masterpiece, Liege & Lief?) It's very difficult to rate down any Joni song from this era because of her masterful, poetic, insightful lyrics.

Five star songs:  one of my all-time, ALL-TIME favorite songs, 2. "Help Me" (3:22) (11/10); 3. "Free Man in Paris" (3:02) (10/10); 1. "Court and Spark" (2:46) (9.5/10); 8. "Just Like This Train" (4:30) (9.5/10); 6. "Car on a Hill" (3:02) (9/10), and; the beautifully orchestrated, 7. "Down to You" (5:44) (9/10);

Four star songs:  the jazzy, 9. "Troubled Child" (4:00) (8.5/10); 4. "People's Parties/The Same Situation" (5:13) (8.5/10); the song that created RIKKIE LEE JONES, 10. "Twisted" (2:21) (8/10), and; 8. "Raised on Robbery" (3:06) (7/10).

90.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece. Period.






23. STEELEYE SPAN Hark! The Village Wait (1970) is the band's debut consisting of "rock" arrangements of 10 traditional songs including the much covered and renowned "The Blacksmith"  (3:40), "Blackleg Miner" (2:45) The album is remarkable for multi-instrumentalist Tim HART's contributions of banjo, electric guitar, dulcimer, fiddle and harmonium with other traditional folk instruments (mandola, concertina, autoharp, acoustic guitars) over a foundation of drums, electric bass and gently picked electric guitar. Also notable are the presence of two female vocalists, Gay Woods and Maddy Prior--the former of whom would break off after this album to form a new band with her husband, Terry, called The Woods Band. The instances in which the two female leads sing together are quite magical. The pacing on the album is quite constant and slow, like a slow dance, and much of the music sounds familiar to Americans in a YOUNGBLOODS or CROSBY, STILLS & NASH way. This is an awesome album of electrified folk music. 




24. PENTANGLE Solomon's Seal (1972) continues to expose the world to the extraordinary talents of jazz-oriented bass player Danny THOMPSON and his friend Victoria (the name he gave to the Gand stand up double bass that he has used almost exclusively throughout his much lauded career). In fact the presence of that bass playing alone renders this album unique in my listening experience (it is only my second Pentangle album)--I can think of no other folk or prog albums up to this time (1972) that use the double bass in this fashion. Then throw in the wonderful lead vocal work of Bert Jansch and Jacqui McShee and the delicate and selective interplay of the other strings (acoustic guitars, banjo, and sitar) and you have a full band of virtuosi weaving their weaves in quite a masterful way. And I did not even mention the amazing work of percussionist Terry Cox.
     I do not know of many bands even in the jazz fusion sub-genre who weave together their songs so intricately. How this album goes so poorly rated I do not know. It is a masterpiece by my standards--one that never ceases to make my jaw drop with every listen. The musicians are so accomplished in their instrumental play and Jacqui McShee is at her very, very finest. I find it mystifying.
     This album was apparently the last of the original "classic" Pentangle lineup. I see a bit of a parallel to the course of the band RENAISSANCE during a phase of their career in which one of their final "prog" albums (Novella) feels "tired" to many listeners. Well, I don't hear it. They sound like they're at the top of their games (except the weak male vocals on "Snow" and "People on the Highway." And I know that these amazing musicians all went on to continue producing top-notch music for years after this album.

Favorite songs:  1. "Sally Free and Easy" (3:56) (10/10); 7. "No Love Is Sorrow" (2:47) (10/10); "The Cherry Tree Carol" (3:04) (9/10); 4. "High Germany" (3:19) (9/10); 6. "Willy O' Winsbury" (5:56) (9/10), and even; 5. "People on the Highway" (4:45) (8/10).





25. HORSLIPS The Tain (1973) This was such a well-recorded, produced and pioneering album of music! From the opening notes of "Setanta" (1:52) one cannot quite be sure what one is in for: blistering electric guitar riffs seemingly randomly dispersed over disjointed and disorganized instrumental play. Surprising yet mesmerizing! By the time we get to the third song we are able to get a sense for the style that Horslips are going for--not far from that of Jethro Tull with electric guitars and flutes over drum and bass foundations with folk-styled vocal story-telling--though much more folk feeling than that of JT. Reels and rock, Celtic and military drumming, electric guitars and a variety of flutes occupy pretty equal lead time throughout. The vocalists are quite oriented in the stylings of the Sixties--British bands like The Beatles, Donovan and The Buckinghams--but they are notable for the remarkable variety.
     All in all this is a very nice listen, start to finish, one that grows on the listener over time. It helps that the album ends on such a strong note with the final two songs, "Morrigan" and "Time to Kill!" I can see how and why many regard this as a masterpiece of progressive rock music--it is certainly exemplary of the era.

Favorite songs:  13. "The Morrigan's Dream" (3:26) (9/10); 14. "Time to Kill!" (5:07) (9/10); 5. "You Can't Fool the Beast" (3:40) (9/10); 8. "Chu Chulainn's Lament" (3:02) (8/10); 7. "Ferdia's Song" (2:44) (8/10); 10. "Faster than the Hound" (5:38) (8/10), and; 4. "The March" (1:34) (8/10). 






26. MAXOPHONE Maxophone (1975) This is an album of very melodic and beautiful music, at times quite complex, especially in the vocal arrangements and support from the orchestral instruments.

1. "C'è Un Paese Al Mondo" (6:39) opens with a dynamically diverse piano-based song that has what seems to be an entire orchestra making contributions and with Alberto Ravasini's pleasant, husky voice in the lead vocal position. I really like the inputs of the woodwinds and brass. It's not really until the 4:40 mark when this song really declares itself a 'rock' song with full rock band lineup and searing electric guitar lead. The choral vocal arrangements in the final minute are nice. (9/10)

2. "Fase" (7:04) opens with an almost hard rock sound as lead electric guitar, electric bass, and drum kit churn up some. Around 45 seconds in the keyboards finally enter--first clavinet, then electric piano and two different organs. Saxes and a wide variety of keyboard/organ sounds permeate the first half of the song--none lasting more than a few measures (it seems) until things slow down and get soft for a 40 second vibraphone solo. The music amps up into near-hard rock territory again (similar to KC's 21st Century Schizoid Man"--which always leaves me asking, "Was that hard rock or soft rock?") before solo horn and wind instruments again their two-cents to the maintenance of the lead melody. Guitars go acoustic in the beginning of the sixth minute as horn section and flute give me a kind of Canterbury/PICCIO DAL POZZO-NATIONAL HEALTH feel. Me like! (9/10)

3. "Al Mancato Compleanno Di Una Farfalla" (5:52) opens with a classical guitar soloing for the first 45 seconds before flutes and, a little later, piano join in. Then at 1:20 everybody drops out to make room for a softly picked electric guitar and nice choral-presented vocal. It appears that the chorus is alternatively sang by lead vocalist with harmonizing background vocalists while the verses are sung collectively as a chorus. Interesting! Then, at 3:40, organ, electric bass and drums announce a harder, electrified section--over which Alberto's lead vocal gets quite aggressive. Great power here! I am so intrigued by the multiplicity and fluidity of keyboard choices through out this band's song play. At 5:35 things quite down for an soft little electric guitar outro. (10/10)

4. "Elzeviro" (6:47) opens with church organ and Alberto singing solo. It feels aggressive but unravels fairly evenly despite the increasingly menacing chord progressions used by the organ. At 1:35 the rest of the band begins their entrance--which breaks out in quite a nice, somewhat jazz-rock form. This could be BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS, ELP and GENESIS! Great section! At 3:30 lone piano hits signal the commencement of a piano-based instrumental section over which another searing guitar solo is blasted. Then at 4:05 things soften quite a bit with a beautiful choral vocal section. At 4:50 organ, horns and Alberto take center stage again. At 5:38 the rock band smootly re-enters but this time the RENAISSANCE-like jam beautifully incorporates the contributions of all kinds of orchestral instruments to the end. Awesome song! (9/10)

5. "Mercanti Di Pazzie" (5:21) opens with a harp solo! When Alberto's voice enters at the 0:40 mark it is soft and high pitched. He is joined by his amazing companions of voices off and on over the next minute until a kind of classical section with vibraphone and electric bass take over. Eventually, by the 2:11 mark, they establish a new foundation over which a more rock-sounding choral sings. But then, just before the three minute mark the music returns to the section we opened with. I adore these gorgeous melodies and harmonies! A very delicate picked electric guitar section ends the fifth minute before shifting into a hypnotic, aqueous section of instrumental beauty (like the end section of PETER GABRIEL's "Humdrum")--which then plays out to the end. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

6. "Antiche Conclusioni Negre" (8:54) opens in full band-with-orchestra form (not unlike the album's opener) with a very jovial, uptempo melody before shifting into a more Broadway-like horn-led section. It has the feel of an overture--a review of themes. When it calms down around the 1:45 mark it feels like a PFM moment. Piano-based, alternating chorus and solo lead vocals, the song is pretty. The mid-section is back to more of the uptempo sections with sax and guitar soli. At 6:40 everything stops and a solo church organ rises to the fore before a low-register vocal choir sings what could be an anthemic or intentionally significant section to the song's close. Great song; kind of three in one. (9/10)

As always, I think these songs would mean much more to me if I knew Italian--especially in terms of how the music was created to match/support the lyrical messages. But, in terms of sound, composition, ability and performance, this deserves a place among the classics.
A a masterpiece of progressive rock music--Italian or otherwise.

93.33 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a veritable masterpiece of progressive rock music with folk elements.

More prog and rock than folk but has many very folkie moments, including:  "Al mancato compleanno di una farfalle" (5:53) (10/10); "Mercanti di piazza" (5:51) (10/10), and; "Il fischio del vapore" (4:56) (10/10).




















27. GRYPHON Bringing forth the more medieval side of folk music, Richard Harvey's Gryphon could almost be given their own category for the more ancient, traditional instrumentation and typcially totally acoustic arrangements of their songs. 1973 brought forth two albums, Midnight Mushrumps and Red Queen to Gryphon Three, which are their most highly acclaimed--at least by prog rock aficionados. I find myself enjoying the collection of older folk-feeling songs of Mushrumps--and, even more, its 18-minute epic--more than the four cold, Änglagård-like instrumental pieces of the Red Queen. I have a private theory that Midnight Mushrumps' title song had quite a little effect on former Genesis guitarist Anthony PHILLIPS, for his debut album, The Geese and The Ghost, released four years later in 1977, displays quite a medieval flavour of its own--both topically and stylistically as well as instrumentally. I wonder if either David BEDFORD or Mike OLDFIELD had heard their music before they embarked upon their own careers--and especially their collaboration for the very medieval-sounding Hergest Ridge.
     Gryphon are an example of true period specialists, virtuosi at their craft.




28. STRAWBS 
Hero & Heroine (1974)

One of the most acclaimed Strawbs albums, Hero and Heroine has never been able to keep me engaged the way that some of the band's other albums do. It is a good album but without the highs and consistency of Ghosts or even Grave New World. Founder and heart and soul of the band, singer-songwriter Dave COUSINS, sounds to my ears like Ian Anderson doing Peter Gabriel while the music the band created in this period sounds like the prog folk music that JETHRO TULL never made but everyone wishes (or thinks) that they did. Cousin's similarity to the voice qualities of an
Anderson-Gabriel melange are so remarkable that I hear it in virtually every song the band does. It's not a bad thing, it's just an eerie, noticeable thing.
     The album opens with 2:15 of some of the proggiest stuff the band ever did in the form of the KING CRIMSON "Epitaph"-like intro to "Autumn," but then retreats into mostly nice sounding folk rock. A very good album of great pop folk songs with the opener and it's followup, the anthemic "Sad Young Man," as its high points. I much prefer Grave New World and Ghosts.

Favorite songs: 1. "Autumn"(8:26) (10/10); 2. "Sad Young Man" (4:08) (10/10); the beautiful AMERICA-like 6. "Midnight Sun" (3:13) (10/10); the Peter GABRIEL-like 9. "Lay a Little Light on Me"(3:27) (9/10), and; the heavier, mostly instrumental outro, 10. "Hero's Theme" (2:27) (8.5/10).

85.0 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album; B; an excellent addition to any prog rocker's music collection.






29. ITOIZ Ezekiel (1980) is prog folk from the Basque Region of Spain. This is the folk side of prog folk, yet it has a very strong jazzy flavor with its flutes, fiddles, saxophones, and pianos joining the acoustic guitars, electric bass, drum kit, and, of course, vocals. Try listening to the following YouTube links:  2. "Ezekielen Esnatzea" (6:02); 5. "Ezekielen Ikasgaia" (6:30); 6. "Ezekielen Ametsa + Ezekielen Erantzuna" (6:10), and; 8. "Ezekiel: Ia maitasun kantu bat" (5:51).




30. FAIRPORT CONVENTION Liege & Lief (1969)

Explorations of the electric/rock side of folk music yields Liege & Lief. Not the most proggy album on my list but it was a progenitor to many other experiments/developments in the Folk and Prog Folk realms.

Album highlights (for me):  Sandy Denny's mesmerizing vocal over the fascinatingly sparse and intermittent support of the band in 2. "Reynardine" (4:34) (10/10); her second best vocal on the album's finale, 8. "Crazy Man Michael" (4:37) (9/10); the aggressive presentation of the 7. "Tam Lin" (7:13) story (8.5/10), and; the electric guitar play in general and the guitar-violin duel at the end of 3. "Matty Groves" (8:10) (8/10).

85.0 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album; B; an excellent addition to any progressive rock lover's album collection.



OTHER ALBUMS WORTH MENTIONING:



RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)









THE WOODS BAND The Woods Band (1971) is a "solo" spinoff from original STEELEYE SPAN background vocalist Gay Woods with the support of her husband Terry Woods and Ed Deane, both multi-instrumentalists.












AGINCOURT Fly Away (1971)




THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion (1968)




THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND U (1970)




THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1968)




STEELEYE SPAN Below the Salt (1972)




JETHRO TULL Songs from the Wood (1977) Songs from the Wood and I go way back. To 1977. Never a real Tull fan, despite many of my friends worshipping them and Ian Anderson and their "amazing" concerts, I kept buying Tull albums thinking, "This might be the one" (to win me over). Don't get me wrong, JT have some awesome songs and some very cool, memorable riffs (I remember listening to A Passion Play over and over to find those few passages of sublime prog heaven). Ian and the boys have always been one of those bands that I can only take in small doses. So, I was very excited upon acquiring Songs from the Wood because of the pastoral cover (promising some more pastoral, folk-like music, I hoped) and the fact that there were a collection of mostly short songs. But, as was still is: I find some great skill and a fair amount of listening pleasure--I count "Fire at Midnight" (9/10), "Jack-In-The-Green" (9/10), "The Whistler" (10/10), and "Pibroch (Cap in Hand)" (10/10) as five-star efforts. And now, as I dive deeper into the heretofore hidden (to me) world of Prog Folk, I compare Songs from the Wood with other efforts from the likes of Ragnarök, Faun, Fauns, Itoiz, Horslips, Jan Dukes de Grey, The Strawbs, Amarok, Conventum, Pererin, Comus, Iona, Dunwich, and even Hölderlin, Cos and Fruupp. The title song (8/10) has a nice Gentle Giant start to it but by the two minute mark seems to meander and lose its steam and lyrically is almost embarrassing. "Velvet Green" (8/10) has two outstanding mid-sections, but the first 1:40 and final minute seem so tired and old. Been there, JT; done that before. 
     This is a very polished JTull, more mature and sophisticated, with excellent prod ction value. IMHO, this is an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection but not a masterpiece.





SPIROGYRA St. Radigunds (1971)




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