Sound — 7
I wasn't sure about getting this album. One of the reviews I read before I purchased it called it "the best album Jefferson Airplane ever made". It's exactly like that. It's close to "Surrealistic Pillow" or "Jefferson Airplane Takes Off," mixed with a bit of naivety. The instrumentation, by the other hand is impeccable. Richard Thompson (lead guitar) clearly didn't get better in time, he was born the best guitar player ever. The band puts him in the center, with great solos leading the songs. Simon Nicol (rhythm guitar) and Ashley Hutchings (bass) are really adequate and don't stand out at all, just playing their lines properly. Martin Lamble (drums) sounds amazing. The real deal, the thing I like the most about this album is the vocal arrangement. Iain Matthews and Judy Dyble have very particular voices. Matthews sounds both kind of goofy and cool and Judy Dyble is perfect. I've never heard a voice like hers. Delicate, elegant, classy, cold. Their vocal blends sound amazing as well.
I don't rate the sound higher 'cause I think the bass is sometimes too basic and Judy Dyble is not featured on every single song, which is a waste of talent.
Lyrics — 7
Out of the 16 tracks (counting 4 bonus tracks) only 7 were written or co-written by band members (Thompson and Hutchings being the main contributors). The rest of the songs are covers composed by the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Richard & Mimi Fariña.
The original tracks are quite different: sometimes kind of dull sounding, like "If (Stomp)," or "M1 Breakdown," but others like "Decameron" or "It's Alright Ma, It's Only Witchcraft" are just amazing.
The cool part is, even tough most of the tracks are covers, the band has added it's very own sound to them: the arrangements, the vocal timings, aso. are perfectly handled and stay truthful to the band's DNA (at least to this lineup's).
Overall Impression — 8
There are many reasons this album might be underappreciated by most of Fairport's fans: it sounds nothing like them. That's why I believe this album and this lineup in particular should be judged as another band altogether: still with a quite dominant Hutchings as the leader, no Sandy Denny or any other traditional elements influencing them, Iain Matthews was still a driving force within the band and Richard Thompson seems kind of shy, at least as a writer.
This west coast sounding album shines on it's own. Being released in 1968, it was the time Jefferson Airplane released "Crown of Creation" and The Mamas and The Papas released their "The Papas and The Mamas" album. By comparison, all three albums have the very same elements: harmonic vocal blends, experimental sounds, male-female singers and a tight studio arrangement. Fairport Convention has all of this.
What do I love about it? I'd say it's because of Judy Dyble. That'd be the #1 reason. Still, I find tracks like Sun Shade or The Lobster as standouts. The reason I'd hate it is it doesn't feature Judy's vocals in more songs. They added 4 bonus tracks but there was so much material available with Judy fronting the band (Violets of Dawn, Both Sides Now, Let's Get Together, and so on).
If I ever lost the album, I wouldn't worry too much 'cause I've seen it quite a lot in Peruvian music stores, for some strange reason. I'd just have to ride my pet llama for a few blocks to re-purchase it.