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Fairport Convention: Meet On The Ledge: The Classic Years (1967­p;1975)

Album: Meet On The Ledge: The Classic Years (1967&shyp;1975)
Label: A&M

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In the end, however great his work during other periods might be, Bob Dylan's greatest contribution to music will probably come from his mid-'60s run of classic albums beginning with Bringing It All Back Home and culminating in The Basement Tapes, albums that recklessly and wonderfully combined the old worlds of traditional American music with the new world of rock 'n' roll. With a great deal of respect for tradition and no respect for traditionalists, Dylan combined genres to great effect, making new timeless music out of timeless music of old. It's apt, then, that Fairport Convention covered Dylan extensively on its early albums, for what Dylan did in America, Fairport did in Britain. With little regard for conventional boundaries, the group brought the traditional music of the British Isles (and elsewhere) into the modern era. But what was radical at the time is history now: Fairport endures to this day as an honored English institution, its twisted family tree and voluminous output making it one of the most difficult bands to get a handle on. That makes this two-disc anthology especially welcome, providing a convenient overview of the group's early, most vital output. Listening now, it's possible to see that the early Fairport may have had too much talent to last long. Seamlessly combining covers, beautifully arranged traditional songs, and originals by guiding lights Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny—both gifted with divine talents on guitar and vocals, respectively—Fairport created a genre unto itself, represented by Meet On The Ledge's first disc which spans the band's first (pre-Denny) recordings through 1969's Liege And Lief. It couldn't last, and as the band shed members (Denny and Thompson departed in the early '70s), it relied increasingly on approximations of past glories. A 1973 version of the beautiful traditional sailor's song "Polly On The Shore," for example, sounds too mannered, raising the question of whether the world really needed a Celtic Santana. Before her death in 1978, Denny rejoined the group on Rising For The Moon, and the four selections from that album that close Meet On The Ledge make its subtitle, The Classic Years, seem appropriate, despite the second disc's patchiness. Thompson would go on to achieve greatness, however narrowly recognized, as a solo (and duo) artist, Denny would achieve immortality for reasons other than her premature death, and Fairport would deservedly carry on as an institution. But the meeting of minds and spirits, and past and present, captured here only comes around once in a while.