Lal Waterson / Lal & Mike Waterson / Mike Waterson

Bright Phoebus

(CD - Domino #REWIGCD 102)

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When the Watersons, exhausted from touring, decided to take an "undefined" break in the early 1970s, siblings Lal and Mike went into the famed Cecil Sharp House with some of British folk's most revered players and cut the folk-noir classic Bright Phoebus. Not content to stay true to their penchant for largely a cappella reinterpretations of traditional tunes, the pair unleashed what would become their only collection of original material, and one of the most sought-after recordings in the history of the genre. Beginning with the Beatlesque "Rubber Band," a twisty tall tale that pairs jug band histrionics with eccentric lyrics like "Just like margarine our fame is spreading," Bright Phoebus declares its intentions as the English folk equivalent of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, it's not all "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite," as evidenced by Lal's devastating -- and oft-covered -- tale of loneliness, drink, and regret, "Red Wine Promises," featuring a beautiful guest vocal by sister Norma Waterson. All of the players, Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks, producer Bill Leader, and the ever-present dual acoustic guitar assault of Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy, work as a single organism to bring these idiosyncratic songs to life. There are psych-rock confections ("Magical Man"), country-folk romps ("Danny Rose"), and haunting ballads ("The Scarecrow"), but it's the singularly perfect title track, a bucolic, pagan campfire singalong, that provides the biggest thrills. While its dark charms were quelled for years due to licensing agreements and general mismanagement, the songs themselves have only grown in strength, waiting patiently for their inevitable day in the sun, and the well-deserved accolades of the masses. [In 2017 Domino reissued a remastered version of Bright Phoebus, as well as a deluxe version that included 12 previously unreleased demos.]

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