Monday, June 8, 2015

Review: 'Dust on the Nettles: A Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72'

While the American hippies were digging up the blues and country roots buried in their home soil, their British counterparts were getting back in touch with their own past. Thus, archaic ballads, weird legends, and a creepy Gothic sensibility came billowing out of the cauldron that some branded “acid folk.” The endless Jerry Garcia jams yawning across the pond could only sound staid and boring in comparison.

The guiding light of the late-sixties British underground folk movement was the Incredible String Band, which melded Olde English balladry with the sitars, keyboards, and bells of the current psychedelic sound. That band’s influence is detectable to varying degrees in nearly every track on Grapefruit Record’s Dust on the Nettles: A Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72. So if you dig Mike Heron and Robin Williamson, you’ll probably dig this new triple-disc set. Not that these 63 tracks are the products of wall-to-wall ISB sound-a-likes. There are other major genre stars with strong identities of their own in the mix, such as Tyrannosaurus Rex, Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Spyrogyra, though they’re generally represented by obscurities and demos (and in the case of Magnet, the mesmerizing “Willow’s Song” from the soundtrack of the key weird-folk flick The Wicker Man). And don’t assume that it’s all acoustic guitars and caftans either. Oberon’s “Minus Tirith” takes a break for a noisy drum solo. Shrieks pierce Paper Bubble’s “Prisoners, Victims, Strangers, Friends”. Kevin Coyne tries on some goofy comedy voices in “Sand All Yellow”. The chainsaw-massacre guitar on Beau’s “Silence Returns” is so intense it makes the track self combust for a spell.

For the most part, though, Dust on the Nettles is music for an autumn country ramble or a springtime romp around the Maypole. As is the case with almost every various artist comp., everything here isn’t gold. Clive Palmer’s “Stories of Jesus” has no place outside the walls of a Sunday school. Benjamin Delaney Lion’s “Samantha Carol Fragments” recalls ISB at their most shapeless. More often than not, undiscovered gems are in store from the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Trees, Moonkytes, Tony Caro & John, Frozen Tears, Hunt Lunt & Cunningham, Shide & Acorn, and the delightfully named Fresh Maggots. Many of these tracks are culled from singles impossible to find today. Several others have never been released at all before now, which makes Simon Murphy’s superb, full-bodied remastering all the more impressive. Think of Dust on the Nettles as Nuggets for pagans, Jesus freaks, hobbits, wicker men, witchy women, and satyrs with sitars. Get it on here:
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