If you're ever playing the Six Degrees of Separation game and you want to connect old-school American hip-hop to British folk music in one move, you can invoke the name of Ian King's Panic Grass & Fever Few, which must surely be the only English trad folk album to feature the playing of former Sugar Hill Records house bassist Doug Wimbish. But there are plenty of other reasons to be enamored of this U.K. folkie's debut effort; King is one of the precious handful of artists committed to moving traditional Brit-folk into the 21st century, with the same adventurous spirit the prompted the likes of Fairport Convention to push folkie boundaries in the ‘60s. This is no folk-rock album, though -- it's produced and mixed by legendary avant-dub wizard Adrian Sherwood, recorded at his famed On-U studio and featuring accompaniment from his stalwart sessioneers (Wimbish, Skip "Little Axe" McDonald, Denise Sherwood). Just as he did with the sounds of Creation Rebel and African Head Charge in the ‘80s, Sherwood mixes King's straightforward folk style with a heady stew of dub, funk, reggae, ambient, and world music, achieving a new stylistic paradigm in the process. Though King penned a couple of the tracks here himself ("Evil Eye" and "By George"), the bulk of Panic Grass & Fever Few is occupied by songs taken straight from the British folk tradition, like "Adieu to Old England" and "Ah Robin, Gentle Robin." For his part, King delivers the songs in a strong, clear tone, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin, while Sherwood and his cohorts open up the window on the rest of the universe and let subtle funk inflections, low-key dub effects, Middle Eastern rhythm patterns, and the like fill the singer's sonic sails. The end result is a sound that's quite unlike anything ever heard before either in the folk world or in Sherwood's realm.
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AllMusic Review by James Allen