Contrary to popular opinion, the English folk rock movement is not dead. For years, people have been feeding off of reissues and music from the dinosaurs (now, before you hang me in effigy, I too have sustained myself by picking up those reissues and new albums by the likes of Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay, among others), but fresh new music in that old vein has been very hard to find. Enter Una Walsh and Tony Dean who record under the name of No Fixed Abode. Channeling the energy of the seventies into the 21st Century is not easy, but they have done it and done it well. Not alone, of course. They roped Ashley Hutchins, folk bassist of stature, into helping out, as well as Paul Hopkinson, Patrick Walker, Jim Palfreyman and Nip Heeley. Among folk rockers, Hutchins is legend, and the others? Let us just say that after hearing this, their names too will be noted.
NFA gives you eleven originals on Clearwater, every one a winner thanks to the writing of Walsh and Dean. Some a little more ballad, others a mix, still others straight folk rock in the old (hey, it was new when I first came across it) tradition. From the beginning strains of What Did I Do, with its semi-Judy Collins vocals, I was hooked. Upbeat and with good melody, the background violin flashes back to the mid-70s and all of the good things coming out of the British folk scene. The Salty Sea Dog borrows a bit from Stephen Stills' Love the One You're With, but only the rhythm, and Walsh shows that she has the voice—a fine track. If you have missed the days of Joni and Judy, Call Me is great medication, lone voice and guitar capturing what made folk music worth hearing back then. A bit of folk/psych ends the CD, The Time Has Come having a feel worth reliving.
What really makes Clearwater stand out for me, though, are two tracks which could have easily been turned into twelve or fifteen minute folk jams—Absent Friends, an utterly beautiful ballad with an ethereal touch, thanks to background guitar effects which make me laugh, they're so right on; and School Days, which for some reason has me thinking Fairport's superb A Sailor's Life from their Unhalfbricking album, though I honestly have to say that I have not heard that for some years, many of my records being in storage. I do remember playing the Fairport track over and over, musical effects magnified by a darkened room and the nefarious herb, and the same feeling swept over me recently when I cranked up the NFA track full volume and sans herb. I have to be honest. As good as this album is, I've listened to those two tracks more than the others put together. It's a personal thing.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the production, which could hardly have been better. I mean, Absent Friends and School Days are straight out of the seventies and would have been so easy to muck up, but they didn't. The effects are downright spine-tingling to an old codger like myself. Makes me feel young again.
Look. This thing is available through CD Baby and the last I saw, they have a pretty good sampling system set up. If you like the old days of British folk rock, it would behoove you to check this out. It's worth it for Hutchins' bass lines alone. Those were the days.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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