Bridget St. John

Dandelion Albums & BBC Recordings Collection

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Bridget St. John was one of the more distinctive artists to emerge from the U.K. folk scene in the '60s and '70s; she had a strong, powerful voice that made her sound a bit like Nico's cousin from the British countryside, and she was a talented if elemental guitarist and a songwriter whose lyrical perspective suggested a poet whose mystical side was still grounded by the realities of the earth. Caught somewhere between the U.K. folk community and the hippie culture, St. John found a sympathetic record label when John Peel co-founded Dandelion Records; Peel and his partners were music fans and not businessmen, which means St. John was given full creative freedom, though her records didn't get much of a chance in the marketplace. Three of the four studio albums St. John recorded before she took a sabbatical from music to move to the United States are featured in the artlessly titled box set Dandelion Albums & BBC Recordings Collection. Released in 1969, Ask Me No Questions is St. John's most simple and unadorned set, with the artist accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, with bass and hand drums dressing up a few tracks. Issued in 1971, Songs for the Gentle Man was a significantly more artful affair, with producer Ron Geesin giving the material greater variety with the use of creative audio effects and arrangements that used keyboards, strings, and woodwinds to lend a baroque sensibility to the tunes. While the results are often lovely, there are moments when the self-consciously pretty surfaces run counter to St. John's more grounded perspectives. And 1972's Thank You For... seems to strike a middle ground between the first two LPs; while the bulk of the album features a full band, the heartfelt, country-influenced backing meshes well with St. John's guitar and voice, and her covers of "Lazarus," "Everyday," and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" are imaginative and a far cry from the many interpretations that came before. (The version of Thank You For... included here also features a handful of bonus tracks, including several fine live numbers from a French concert appearance.) And while the fourth disc of St. John's BBC Radio sessions might seem like bonus, its value is compromised by the fact that the first six selections were sourced not from BBC archival materials, but from tapes that were clearly made by sticking the microphone from a cheap tape machine at a radio experiencing static; the other tracks on the disc boast much higher fidelity, but ultimately the BBC material is for serious fans only. Dandelion Albums & BBC Recordings Collection is a good pick for fans looking to replace their battered Bridget St. John LPs or new admirers who want to buy the bulk of St. John's catalog in one go, though all parties should be wary of the BBC material in this set.

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