BY FRED MILLS
Though saddled with an unfortunate name – let’s face it, the pastoral/agrarian implications of “culpeper’s orchard,” abetted by some truly atrocious, inscrutable sleeve art depicting a hobbit/gnome-like individual tending a garden (why not an orchard?), aren’t exactly inspiring – this Danish folk/prog/psych outfit from the early ‘70s has certainly stood the test of time. No less an arch Druid than Julian Cope enthused over Culpeper’s Orchard, citing the “catchy songs, fiery guitar solos, euphoric vocal harmonies” and “intricate and furiously hard-edged arrangements.”
Indeed. The quartet – Nils Henriksen, Cy Nicklin, Rodger Barker, Michael Friis – knew its way around an intricate arrangement or two. Originally calling themselves Monsoon (for my money a far more timeless-sounding moniker, but what do I know) and forming in 1970, they changed names and cut their self-titled debut a year later to positive reviews, the press likening them to both the prevailing West Coast folk-rock sound (Byrds, CSN&Y) and the new boom of British heavy rock (Jethro Tull, Led Zep). It opens up on a deceptively backwoods note, the brief (42 sec.) banjo salutation “Banjocul,” then it’s straight into a blazing swirl of Tull-styled tuneage via “Mountain Music, Part 1.” From there one encounters moments both bombastic (the Tolkienesque “Teaparty for an Orchard,” with its huffing organ and convulsing percussion) and mellow (the midtempo piano reverie of “Gideon’s Trap”) en route to the complex, suite-like Part 2 of “Mountain Music” (which indulges a plethora of stylistic flourishes, including a blooze-boogie passage and a Hendrixian solo) running nearly 7 ½ minutes.
Those were the days, eh? Culpeper’s Orchard, in its original form, only lasted another year until the usual arguments over musical direction prompted a split, the group soldiering on through a series of lineup shuffles until 1979. But one solid artifact to leave behind is better than none, and the archivists at Shadoks should be commended for resurrecting this one. Rounding the package out is a 16 page booklet loaded with rare photos, reproductions of concert posters and all the original LP art and lyrics, plus in-depth liner notes by Claus Rasmussen (who interviewed both Nicklin and Friis). Hooray!
DOWNLOAD: “Your Song & Mine,” “Mountain Music, Part 2”