Convention has done what many might consider the impossible on its recent
release By Popular Request: the
bandmates refreshed the 13 fan-selected songs without adulterating them, taking
the voted-upon selections and going into the studio with John Gale for
re-recording. Think of the sonic facelift as more Christie Brinkley than Liza
Minnelli – just enough to look natural but not over-the-top in any sense.
saying something when you consider that each of the songs on the album –
including “Meet on the Ledge” and “Walk Awhile” – has been in the band’s
catalog for most of its 45-year history. That left the band facing the
challenge of satisfying purists while not becoming, in co-founding member Simon
Nicol’s own words, its own tribute band.
the band members’ restraint (each is a celebrated artist in his own right) with
their reverence for the group’s past songwriters and players for exceeding
expectations. Not only do the vocalists – notably co-lead singers Nicol and
multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, the current incarnation’s chief songwriter
– sing with zeal but the instrumentation and arrangements add just enough new
textures to air out some of the (let’s just say mustiness) of a few of the
one of most refreshed tracks on the album “Matty Groves”: this bluegrass
flavored version of the classic English folk song owes plenty to the spirited
fiddle of virtuoso Ric Sanders and Leslie’s sparkling banjo. The Richard
Thompson-penned “Meet on the Ledge” is another Fairport standard that receives
a welcome update by way of a slightly changed arrangement noticeably regarding
fiddle and mandolin and a slightly more urgent tone in Nicol’s lead vocals.
Even the haunting “Crazy Man Michael” is improved upon notably with the
addition of what must be whistles according to the album’s liner notes.
By Popular Request shows why Fairport
Convention continues to be a folk-rock pioneer. It’s available exclusively via
mail order at the band’s official website.