The Dransfields

The Fiddler's Dream

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Hearing this album for the first time, it's easy to see why Steeleye Span declined to tour with the Dransfields -- with all due respect to Maddy Prior and company, they'd have been shown-up and then some, based on the evidence here. From the crisp playing on acoustic and low-wattage electric guitars, and charismatic yet honest and unaffected lead and harmony singing to the diverse song selection -- all part of a defined song cycle -- the album was as perfect an example of electric British folk music as it was released in the '70s, and easily a rival for anything this side of Fairport Convention's best work. The voices and the playing strike a perfect balance between the old traditionalist school out of which the Dransfields came and the newer folk-rock school that they'd only begun to embrace a couple of years earlier, and the album itself also gives a nod to the burgeoning progressive folk-rock genre of the era (best embodied by acts such as Gryphon). The Fiddler's Dream is a folk concept album (though the Dransfields themselves would likely have called it a "song cycle" rather than anything that pretentious). The material all deals with a fiddler's relationship to and effect on an English village -- and not coincidentally; Barry Dransfield was one of the great fiddle players in England during this period, and he has ample room on this album to show a little of what he's made of, though there's also lots of space for great singing by the two brothers and superb dual guitar work by Barry and older brother Robin. The songs all have a relationship to each other that enhances their impact, and they fit together perfectly in their juxtapositioning, with regard to tempo and mood changes as well as subjects. But the playing and singing, and the music, are all so beautiful, on "The Handsome Meadow Boy," "The Fool's Song," or "The Ballad of Dickie Lubber" -- or pretty much everything here -- that one needn't ever have been within 10,000 miles of an English village to appreciate them. Forget Steeleye Span -- based on this album, these guys could easily have rated a spot touring with Jethro Tull when the latter were playing to 30,000 people at a time. The album has aged exceptionally well, and any of the various reissues out there is worth picking up.

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