I had recently heard Among the Oak & Ash, so was in no doubt that Folk Rock is still alive and flourishing. Listening to this box set, you might think it had long ago morphed into something quite different.
The evolutionary family tree of music is a complex, ever-changing proliferation of genres, sub-genres and sub-sub...etc genres. No two people will agree on how to categorize every song and indeed, the most interesting pieces are often those that do not neatly fit any classification. For what it's worth, this is how I remember it: The Folk revival (the foundations of which had been laid by Pete Seeger, Wood Guthrie and others) began with Lonnie Donegan, who had adopted Skiffle and had a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic with Rock Island Line. This was quickly followed up by The Kingston Trio, who really got the revival underway. Donegan was a major influence on the Beatles and other British groups, who eventually displaced the great man and mounted the British invasion. The Byrds, impressed by the Beatles, responded with what turned out to be the start of a new fusion genre, Folk Rock. Dylan wrote the Folk, the Byrds made it rock. From there, the genre has an unbroken lineage, and has been much more consistently recognizable than this collection would have you believe.
The first disc is pretty good. We could argue about the details - there are much better Donovan songs than Season of the Witch, for example, and the exclusion of Peter, Paul & Mary but the inclusion of Nilsson makes zero sense - but for the most part, it's a worthy selection of 60s Folk Rock.
The cracks begin to show in disc 2, the 70s. No Albion Band, either on this or subsequent disks? No Fiddler's Dram? And including Rod Stewart - much as I like the fellow - is a bit of a stretch. "Few would think of him as a folk rocker..." say the notes. Quite. But the essentials - Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and others - are represented.
Disc 3 starts to get truly annoying. The Rain Parade has no place here. X is another stretch. The Dream Syndicate's Let it Rain is entirely out of place. No Oyster Band, still no Albion Band. Toto, I have the feeling we're not in Folk Rock anymore.
By disc 4 all pretence is abandoned and we merely have some Folk-Rock-influenced music. The main thread of the genre is entirely lost.
I'm afraid I found Bruce Pollock's A Partial History near-unreadable, with its meandering sentences and cutesy phrases. "...coming out of the static at the end of the FM dial...so underground it could have been offshore...like an SOS on a deserted island of the senses...in the traffic jam of life at the freeway toll plaza, going nowhere." is from a typical 90-word-plus sentence. His notes on individual tracks are much better - informative, clear and to the point.
There is plenty of good music in this collection, many rip-and-burn candidates, but it is absolutely not a representative selection of Folk Rock.
Listen to Mike Harding online on BBC Radio 2 if you really would like to know where Folk Rock stands today. For stand it does, as strong as the Oak & Ash. [PeterReeve]
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Mar 4, 2009
May 29, 2011 10:22 PM UTC
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With 71 tracks that run the gamut of folk rock, singersongwriter, country rock, roots rock and Americana spanning over 40 years, Four Decades of Folk Rock is so comprehensive that it not only includes the most important songs of these genres, but also spotlights folk tracks performed by rock bands, rock songs recorded by folk acts and experiments by both along the way. Showcasing artists as diverse and influential as Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, the Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac, the collection takes in all the changes wrought by time and generations. With highlights from latter day champions like R.E.M., Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls, John Hiatt, and Sarah McLachlan this set conclusively establishes folk rock as a powerful, enduring form of music.