Silver Birch

Silver Birch

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Silver Birch Review

by Richie Unterberger

Silver Birch's rare, very obscure self-titled album is very good British folk, not wholly traditional in orientation (though much of the material is traditional in origin), yet not folk-rock, either. Instead, it's somewhere between the starker, early music-indebted singing of a group like the Young Tradition and the British folk-ground folk-rock of Fairport Convention and the Strawbs. Those names aren't pulled out of a hat; Fairport Convention and Strawbs material is covered here (with "Crazy Man Michael" and "Flower and Young Man" respectively), and "Lyke Wake Dirge" was one of the Young Tradition's most celebrated tracks (as well as being covered, in a fully arranged band version, by Pentangle). There's very much of an "early music" feel to Silver Birch's arrangements, with haunting English melodies; well-crafted interplay between acoustic guitar, recorder, fiddle, autoharp, mandolin, and harmonium; varied male-female lead vocals (shared between four men and two women) and harmonies, in assorted combinations (and, at times, sung a cappella); and absolutely no drums or electric guitar in sight. The material and approach might be too derivative to mark this as something innovative. But for an independent release with such limited distribution, it's way above average in both recording quality and performance. In fact, it's an above-average mid-'70s British folk album, period, its greatest strength being the varied use of their male-female vocal harmonies. Unlike so many other folk albums of the period with such harmonies, these never settle into a predictable format, an achievement made possible by the presence of half a dozen singing members, and not just one but two woman vocalists. While the mood's on the serious side more often than not, there's some bright playfulness as well, adding up to a record that's worthy of discovery by '70s British folk enthusiasts.

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