Sound — 8
This duo consisted of Fairport Convention's former vocalist Judy Dyble and Then's former keyboard player, Jackie McAuley. The latter's vocals sound a lot like Fairport's Iain Matthews, same range, at least, and therefore it complements Judy's soprano quite well. The vocal arrangements were cleverly worked out. Some songs even feature double tracked vocals and the result is wonderful, specially on the title track, where the climax features like 4 Judy's.
The instrumentation is probably what makes this album unique: it's quite adequate with the overall theme in the album (which I always assumed was growing up and the different phases of life). It can be childish in the opening track, which is about children playing; minimal on Down and Out Blues, excessive on the bonus tracks, but always wonderfully achieved.
The woodwind section's arrangements lift the spirit on the darkest songs of the album and Judy's autoharp keeps all this instruments together, achieving this magical, almost mystical sound this album is known for.
Lyrics — 7
This album is almost completely self-penned, except for the traditional "Down and Out Blues", which is a great addition. McAuley wrote most of the songs. He can be clever, childish, whimsical at times, sexy, and so on. Two songs are written or co-written by Dyble: the title track, Morning Way and Velvet to Atone. Morning Way is probably my favorite track. Starts with McAuley singing lead, only on the first verse, the Judy sings another verse and the third verse is repeated ad nauseam but sung in every way possible by both singers. Might pass as lazy songwriting but the vocals and instrumentation make this song perfect.
Each song tells a story and, as stated before, they seem to be about growing up, the hard times of life, remembering past friends and death. Just like traditional music.
Again, as if the lyrics and the instrumentation weren't enough, the vocalist's skills create a magical atmosphere that defines the album.
Overall Impression — 9
I think in many ways this album compares (as is inevitable) to Fairport Convention and related bands like Pentangle or Fotheringay. Still I think it has a lot of Jethro Tull and early King Crimson (known as Giles, Giles and Fripp back when Judy was their lead singer), specially for the complex woodwind arrangements.
I believe the standout tracks are:
1) Jenny May: The opening track features McAuley on lead vocals and Judy playfully doing backing vocals. It's about a kid trying to persuade his friend to come out to play.
2) Down and Out Blues: A perfect track. I head this song for the first time as "Nobody Wants You When You're Down And Out" performed by Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen and loved it but listening to this jewel of a version made me love it even more. Starts with just McAuley's guitar and Judy on lead vocals and slowly more and more instruments jump in.
3) Better Than Today: This is a song about hope, I believe. Jackie sings the first verse, Judy the second and then they blend vocals for the chorus (which has no lyrics, just a lot of "du-duh"s) and they repeat the formula until the song dies. Naive and beautiful.
4) Sheena: Probably the only uptempo song on this album, it's a witty story about a fun girl, sung lead by Jackie McAuley with Judy joining every now and then in a quite accurate backing vocal arrangement.
5) Morning Way: The title track and, as I stated before, my favorite. Listening to 4 Judy's complementing McAuley's male vocals sounds heavenly. Each time the main verse is repeated they sing it in such a different way you just won't tell they're using the exact same words over and over again.
6) Goodby Mercy Kelly (bonus track): After recording the album, they released a single with a bigger band and now those two tracks are part of the album. Definitely sounds like a fuller band. The arrangement is more pop-oriented. Jackie sings lead and Judy joins only on the chorus at first and sings with McAuley on the last verse.
7) Here Comes the Rain (bonus track): This is probably the closest to pop they ever came, and it sounds beautiful. Piano, keyboards, clever guitar lines, amazing vocal arrangement. A sure hit had it been promoted.
I love all the different emotions this album gives. It's quite a journey to listen to it start to finish. It ends up quite happily (both considering the original cut's closing track or the bonus tracks'). The thing I find most particular is the little five second instrumentals they play in between songs. Never heard anything like it before.
I own this album only digitally. If sometime in the future internet was lost, I'd have to get my pet llama in her llama traveling suit and book a flight for us to the British Isles and try and get this album. I head the physical albums became a cult classic and are currently considered a collector's item. Quite expensive but worth it.