While they are generally considered a British folk-rock group, the Fairport Convention's influence on the post-'60s Celtic rock movement is noteworthy as well. In 1969, they (along with fiddler Dave Swarbrick) proved that amplifiers, a rock rhythm section, and Irish jigs like "Rackish Paddy" and "Toss the Feathers" are very compatible. Their Celtic leanings were most pronounced during Swarbrick's stint (1969-1979), and young, traditionally-based groups like Ireland's Tamalin and Scotland's Prodigals are acknowledging Fairport's early efforts a generation later. 1997 marked the 30th year of Fairport's existence, and the band began yet another chapter in their continuing saga with a new studio album and a couple of live tracks. Exit multi-instrumentalist Maart Allcock and enter fiddle/mandolin/guitar player and Albion Band alumni Chris Leslie. Not at all apprehensive about their newest member, Leslie's "John Gaudie" leads off the new album -- a midtempo, vintage 1973-type rocker featuring the two violin players and Leslie's dulcet tenor. Lest anyone conclude, upon hearing 1995's acoustic album Old-New-Borrowed-Blue, that Fairport's rockin' days are a thing of the past, a few surprises lie awaiting. Fellow fiddler Sanders composed "Bowman's Retreat" as a "welcome aboard" gesture in which each bowman gets to showcase his considerable talents along with the other members. It is debatable whether Fairport has ever rocked as blatantly as they do on "Spanish Main," which actually has Nicol and Leslie trading incendiary guitar licks. Likewise, "Dangerous" further explores that aggressive edge rarely visited in recent years. Fairport Convention is better known for their milder renderings of historical accounts and legendary tales. "Here's to Tom Paine," a Steve Tilston song, is a posthumous salute to that embroiled English writer/American revolutionary. "Golden Glove" is a fairy tale of love and romance in which Leslie supplies some sure-footed mandolin playing. Not to be taken for granted, the rhythm section of Pegg and Mattacks has always been among the most durable and sought after in rock and folk-rock. This album's title asks the obvious question, but given Fairport's dignified and productive aging process, who cares?
AllMusic Review by Dave Sleger
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