My CD catalogue was limited, and overshadowed by my vinyl collection and my most recent el cheapo turntable had given up the ghost years ago. No matter, I wasn't listening to much music anyway.
But as luck would have it, we needed a new car. And the one we settled on came with a six-stacker CD player. I was back in town!
So I decided to get all systematic. That's anal retentive to you. I was going to buy classic or near-classic albums. The kind that I'd heard of, but never got around to listening to. That way I'd be broadening my horizons. A noble imperative. This is pretty much how it turned out:
Liege & Lief - Fairport Convention - 1969:
This is just a superb album. On first listen, I immediately regretted not getting into Fairport Convention about thirty years earlier when a drummer I knew couldn't shut up about this seminal English folk-rock outfit. The drummer had been into Led Zeppelin, and because Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny had sung so beautifully on their song Battle of Evermore from the album Led Zeppelin IV, it made sense to him to explore her regular band. And become a big fan.
I'd listened to a few bands that had accommodated the English folk influence. Bands like Wishbone Ash and Led Zeppelin. I'd also listened to a bit of Steeleye Span as well, who had formed late in 1969 by way of a breakaway from Fairport Convention.
Liege and Lief represents the realization of a group decision to concentrate solely on English folk-derived rock music in the wake of a terrible accident. Their drummer, Martin Lamble, and guitarist Richard Thompson's girlfriend had been killed in a motorway accident in the band's van early in 1969 and the surviving Fairport members were unsure whether to wind things up or keep going. They decided to continue, but to make themselves stand out from the folk-rock crowd by delving into English folk. Their previous album, Unhalfbricking, had been a success with some of that influence present among some more contemporary folk stylings and a couple of Dylan covers.
Pleasingly, for those among you who might be a little skeptical about English folk, there's not too much "diddly-diddly" on this album. It kicks off with the rollicking Come All Ye, where Sandy Denny's pure as snow singing is beautifully complemented by some earnest backing vocals and Dave Swarbrick's rich, melodic violin. While some might find the unwavering intensity of Denny's voice across this album a little too much of a good thing, it somehow manages to fit the character voices in the traditional Matty Groves, perhaps Fairport's signature tune, without changing at all.
She continues with Richard Thompson's poignant Farewell, Farewell, and the anti-war ballad The Deserter. The instrumentation is arranged especially handsomely for the urgent, halting Tam Lin, and further augments Denny's voice without ever overpowering it on the last track, the despairing murder-ballad Crazy Man Michael.
Both Denny and drummer Dave Mattacks would depart soon after this album to form Fotheringay and Steeleye Span respectively, thus expanding the English folk rock universe. But while Fairport Convention would continue for the next three decades, Denny was to die tragically after a fall at home in 1978 at the age of 31. Thankfully, her beautiful voice lives forever.
This clip is a slideshow backing the song Farewell, Farewell from the album.
Still Alive & Well - Johnny Winter - 1974:
Guys I knew when I was a teenager back in the 70s were into Johnny Winter. Guys who were, like me, right into the blues. So I knew he was a Texas born-and-raised albino with a similarly pigmented keyboard-playing brother named Edgar, that he was famous for slide guitar, that many great players rated him highly, that he had a long association with Rick Derringer, and that he liked to do Rolling Stones covers. But somehow, I just never got around to checking him out at all.
And as with Liege and Lief, here was another album to evoke the question "How Long Has This Been Going On?". In Johnny Winter's case, since his childhood: he and brother Edgar were a popular duo on Texas country radio during the late 50s. They were also one of the acts at Woodstock but didn't make it onto the original film, only the 40th Anniversary Edition.
1974's Still Alive and Well was titled in response to a rumour that Johnny had died, as his hard-living, abusive lifestyle was common knowledge. Produced by Rick Derringer, the album features an affecting version of his almost-misogynistic Cheap Tequila. Winter adds a stinging rendition of the ubiquitous blues Rock Me Baby and the authentic soulful country ballad Aint Nothing To Me. The title track and covers of the Stones' Silver Train and Let It Bleed are great blues flavoured rock tunes, the way he does them.
This is a fine album, well worth purchasing and if you're anything like me, you'll feel a pang of regret that your older sisters' boyfriends didn't get you into Johnny Winter sooner.
This clip is from a Johnny Winter live appearance on German television in 1970. The Song is Mean Town Blues.