Various Artists

Tea & Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1967-1974

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Bob Stanley has done an expert job of pop excavation with Tea & Symphony: The English Baroque Sound 1967-1974. The title both explains the comp completely and not at all, as it suggests that this is dainty, delicate music...which it is compared to the heavy psych at the time, but compared to pop later categorized as Baroque, this isn't nearly as twee as you might think. This isn't precocious, precious twaddle, this is popcraft, much of it heavily inspired by Paul McCartney, but a fair share flowing through the Zombies, too, along with a small dose of Gilbert O'Sullivan. Almost all the artists here are unknown, as well, as suggested by the very fact that Graham Gouldman, the Tremeloes, and the Humblebums are the biggest names here. Cult artists like the Honeybus are few and far between, too, as acts with glorious names like Nimbo and Eddie Addenbury taking center stage. As it happens, both Nimbo and Eddie Addenbury sing songs about people named Jones, with Addenbury's "Captain Jones" functioning as one of the best (perhaps only) "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" rip-offs, while Nimbo's "Maisey Jones" could be a forgotten Pete Ham classic. If songs that rework Macca at his most whimsical or unheard Badfinger sounds enticing to you, Tea & Symphony will not disappoint, as Stanley has unearthed 24 soft pop gems here. Some of this isn't as forceful as either McCartney or Badfinger, which is not a fault: Lea Nixon's "Off to Find a New Land" floats by almost entirely on strings, Lori Balmer's "Here Before the Sun" drifts a little too close to easy listening territory, Consortium's "Copper Coloured Years" is a very English spin on the Association. All this is appealing, but the best songs here have more force in their melody or invention in their construction. Junior Campbell's "If I Call You Name" rushes forward on its jangling guitars and Hollies harmonies, Jon Plum's baroque "Alice" has an inherent sense of melodrama as does David Reilly's lusher "Nothing Else to Say" and Julian Brooks' "Justine," while Vigrass' "Stop" has a gentle propulsion to its sweet melodies, Steve Elgin's "Seductress" is softly alluring, even if it never quite seems seductive. Then again, seduction isn't the purpose of any of this soft, Baroque pop: this is music for gentle introspection. The fact that none of this music was a hit at the time only makes Tea & Symphony sweeter, as the obscurity makes it seem precious. Thankfully, Stanley's pop archeology here means that these songs have not been forgotten, and perhaps they'll start to work their way into the soft pop canon. At the very least, hopefully a second volume will follow at some point in the future.

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