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Talking Elephant TECD357

The welcome return of Shirley Collins to live performance has revived interest in her past work and, in this instance, her only significant foray into folk rock, courtesy of her husband of the time, Ashley Hutchings, recently estranged from Steeleye Span in 1971. The band assembled here by Hutchings was the first mention of the name Albion Country Band, but was really just a collective name for an assembled multitude of the British folk rock royalty of the time – the core band being 2/3 of the Fairport of Liege & Lief vintage (and at times this has the sonic effect of a reprise of the same).

Later incarnations of the said Albions did not include Ms Collins, who later split from Hutchings in a break-up that had multiple personal effects, not least of which was a dysphonia that left her unable to sing live for many years. Some tracks are plainly ‘of their time’ and others were developed further elsewhere (Claudy Banks by a later Fairport Convention), but as a historical artefact this is essential listening.

Richard Thompson’s contributions reflect the peak of his prowess as an innovator in (at the time) ground breaking lead electric folk guitar accompaniment. In particular, the Murder Of Maria Martin and The White Hare give RT ample opportunities to let rip, and he does with gusto, but, as always, under immaculate control at all times. Her reading of Just As The Tide Was A’Flowing is one of many high spots in this recording. At times Shirley doesn’t seem too comfortable with the ‘big’ sound - at one point featuring three electric guitars - but its significance cannot be underestimated and I for one love hearing these songs again, particularly as my original vinyl is too valuable to play. It’s a shame that there were no additional tracks in the archive to extend the 34 minutes of glory here – it’s over far too quickly. This deserves to be a hit this time around if there’s any justice in this world.

Grem Devlin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.