Review Summary: I can tell by the sadness in your eyes/That you never quite learned the song
Falling somewhere between Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground, the Incredible String Band are one of many psychedelic-tinged bands from the hippie-era of the late sixties whose legacy has been mainly overshadowed by their peers. Combining the folk and acoustic mannerisms of early Dylan with worldly and experimental instrumentation, the Incredible String Band were no doubt the wallpaper of many drug-inspired revelations during the height of their popularity. However, despite its outlandish title and trippy album art, their 1967 album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion
is a relatively laid back affair and completely inoffensive listen in contrast to the upfront, technicolor sounds that many of their counterparts were releasing at the time. Guided by the old musical mantra of “less is more,” The 5000 Spirits...
is a deceptively simple album to listen to, with most of the songs comprised on the interplay between, you guessed it, string-based instruments. The most prevalent instruments are the undeniably hippie-styled acoustic guitar and sitar, but also more unique sounds, including the oud and the sinter, as well as the flute and piano. Despite the occasional driving campfire-style bongo outros, the album plays more like a Bob Dylan LP than anything else because of its personal lyrics and introspective topics such as love and dreams. It would not be surprising for someone to mistake lead singer Robin Williamson as a Dylan copycat on “The First Girl I Loved” or hypnotic album opener “Chinese White.” Despite their popularity in the United Kingdom during 1967 and 1968, the band would not be able to maintain their popularity and relevance as the years have passed, but Williamson and multi-instrumentalist Mike Heron both enjoyed relatively successful solo careers. Williamson still regularly releases music to this day, while Heron briefly worked with luminaries such as Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, Elton John, and Jimmy Page on his first solo album. The Incredible String Band still has a cult-like following by lovers of the psychedelic and folk genres of the time, and, in some circles, have been credited with helping to bring world music to the forefront of popular music. However, for most of us, they will remain nothing but a footnote of a time full of imaginative ideas and incredible music.