Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Fairport Convention

  • The Fairport Convention [A&M, 1969] A-
  • Unhalfbricking [A&M, 1970] A-
  • Liege and Lief [A&M, 1970] B-
  • Fairport Chronicles [A&M, 1976] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Fairport Convention [A&M, 1969]
Most interesting unknown group I've heard in a while, in control from Pentangle-style ballads to straight rock and a good version of an obscure Dylan song called "I'll Keep It with Mine"; should be worth re-evaluating. A-

Unhalfbricking [A&M, 1970]
Folk-rock is a doubly willful idea in England--our bluegrass and acoustic blues are closer to rock than their Child ballads. And Fairport's eleven-minute version of "A Sailor's Life" doesn't come up to the three Dylan songs (one in French) or Richard Thompson's quite un-English "Cajun Woman." But they do inject a droning energy into the material that suggests real synthesis. Thanks be to Thompson's guitar, Dave Mattacks's drums, and Sandy Denny's fondness for booze. A-

Liege and Lief [A&M, 1970]
Because the rhythm section has oomph and the singer soul, their pursuit of the Pentangle down the wooded path of jigs and ballads isn't entirely disastrous. But it sounds more like liege than lief to me. Traditional or original, these songs are either momentary escapes--that is, dances--or tales of common folk battling fate and the class system to something less than a standoff. Matty Groves outfucks Lord Donald, but Lord Donald kills Matty as well as his own wife; the Deserter is betrayed by comrade and sweetheart, then saved--to be a soldier--by Prince Albert. And the music, inevitably, reflects this fatalism. B-

Fairport Chronicles [A&M, 1976]
Stonehenge on the cover, but inside only traces of the English-folk purism that's limited the band since Dave Swarbrick began fiddling with it. Instead we get tasty Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson oddments, including Dion and Gordon Lightfoot transmuted into impure English folk. The trans-Atlantic connection dominates only one side--my favorite, needless to say. But "Tam Lin" sounds weirder in conjunction with "Percy's Song," "Walk Awhile" merrier in conjunction with "Come All Ye," "Farewell, Farewell" more final at the end of four progressively doomier sides. In short, an intelligent compilation. Great notes, too. A-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]