Review Summary: A testament to the human spirit never fading over time.
It can sometimes be difficult to give full credit to things that changed the face of media. Everyone acknowledges that Seinfeld is a great show, but it loses some of what makes it unique when countless other television shows now follow the formula that it created, perhaps even perfecting that formula. There can be a sort of lack of freshness, an inability to find what it was that not only drew so many people to the original art, but what inspired them to try to create their own version. Unhalfbricking
, the influential 1969 album from Fairport Convention, manages to avoid this issue, with the influences they departed onto other acts clearly visible, while still managing to have their own entirely unique art. For an album fifty years on from its original release in a genre which is not generally known for its innovation, but more for its ability to perfect the expected, Unhalfbricking
manages to place itself in the pantheons of not only classic folk, but also the entire folk genre itself.
Fairport Convention take the best of folk music, and particularly of the British tradition they are proudly a part of (if not the most influential members of) and expand on the sound in a way that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Decemberists record, or something of the same ilk. A mixture of storytelling folk, British rock influences, Roots music, and a cajun-influenced zydeco style, Unhalfbricking
paved the way for countless folk artists while still having a cohesive and masterful sound.
Interestingly enough, Unhalfbricking
has clear influences of its own, with three tracks being covers of little known Bob Dylan songs from The Basement Sessions. The jaunty hand-clapping cajun influence of “Si tu dois partir”, a French-language cover “If You Gotta Go”, and “Percy’s Song”, which highlights climactic storytelling and vocal harmonies with the incomparable Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson, are two incredibly successful covers. The third of these Dylan covers, “Million Dollar Bash”, a Western romp, isn’t quite as successful, sounding out of place on the album and disrupting the dreamy, woodsy flow of the album itself, particularly as it is traditionally the final track on the album (most issues nowadays feature two bonus tracks following it), but it remains fun nonetheless.
The two highlights of the album come from the two songs at the most opposite ends of Fairport Convention’s musical spectrum. The first is eleven minute long epic “A Salior’s Life”. Starting off as subdued shanty with Sandy Denny’s voice at the forefront telling the story of a young maiden who was lost her sailor-lover to the sea, it slowly builds into a full swashbuckling rock tune, with battling solos between Richard Thompson’s righteous guitar and Dave Swarbrick’s driving fiddle, all over an entirely tight, rock rhythm section, which was the first time this sound had been paired with British folk. Incredibly innovative at the time, “A Sailor's Life” is a clear sign towards the future, all while still being the future in itself. Although it has clearly influenced a number of bands, there is never a point in the song where it seems like another band has done it better. It’s absolutely flawless in its creativity and timelessness.
On the opposite side is “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, a song that has become a folk classic. A slow moving, reflective track that evokes a quality of the coming of Spring, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” is an absolute practice in beauty, both sonically and lyrically. A song in three parts, each discussing a different aspect of time, it paints a moving reflection of the never-ending human spirit.
And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it's time to go
So come the storms of winter
And then the birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
As with all bands trying to innovate and create a new brand of music, Fairport Convention do have their own missteps, often with their more rollicking tunes (“Cajun Woman”, “Million Dollar Bash”), but when in a place of beauty and majesty, the album is unmatched by others of its ilk, even fifty years on from its release. For an album so focused on reflection and introspection, Unhalfbricking
successfully was able to rework the past in a way that was not only innovative, but remains incredibly alluring.
There is a certain legend around Unhalfbricking
as well, as a car crash that occurred while the band was touring for album tragically killed drummer nineteen-year-old drummer Martin Lemble and Jeannie Franklin, who was Thompson’s girlfriend, with the rest of the band sustaining serious injuries. The band remained formed, releasing Liege and Lief
soon after, which many consider to their magnum opus. The band still exists and tours with a constantly rotating lineup, which remains a strong example of the testament they created on “Who Know Where the Time Goes”. However, this still means that Unhalfbricking
has become a bit a time capsule, a collection of fun and innovative songwriting that has become frozen in time. Who knows where the time goes indeed.