This creaky solo effort from the Incredible String Band‘s longtime banjo player only hints at the accomplishments of the British folk revival. The songs are mostly forgettable and the singing is, well, not good.
It’s true that great singing was never ISB’s strong point, but the band projected an everyperson sincerity and enthusiasm that made you feel you were sitting in a comfortable living room by a fire singing good songs with good friends. Folk (and even outsider music) vocals can be affectless or amateurish and still convey deep feeling, but Palmer, here, just sounds weary and emotionally flat.
The members of ISB could (and can – see their recent reunion release, Just Like the Ivy) – really play. The flowing quality of their instrumental interplay was always a big part of their appeal, with Palmer, an acknowledged master of the banjo, a major element in that chemistry. But here, even his banjo playing (front and center on most of these tracks) is often dull and non-evocative, unable to carry the weight it’s asked to bear. And when other instruments provide atmospherics, as in “Paris,” the vocals can’t match the musicality of the instrumental fills and solos.
“Breizh” is an interesting, wordless chant – from Brittany, I assume – accompanied only by pipes. I also rather liked “Linden Lea,” a William Barnes poem set to a tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams, while the banjo solo “Dans La Campagne” is a good example of Palmer’s tasteful, light touch on the instrument. But except for a few such spots, the parts don’t add up to a very satisfying musical experience. Much better to hear this well-respected musician in his element: with the Incredible String Band.