Essential New Music: Lal And Mike Waterson’s “Bright Phoebus”; Judy Dyble And Andy Lewis’ “Summer Dancing”

These are bustling days for British folk fans, what with still-frolicking scene linchpins Fairport Convention celebrating its first 50 years, foremother Shirley Collins returning with her first new work in nearly 40 years and a bumper crop of next-generation practitioners including Offa Rex, Trembling Bells and Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band. So time is much more than ripe for a reissue of vaunted “lost” album Bright Phoebus, officially unavailable since its 1972 release, which marked a fleeting comeback (and the lone offering of original material) from the prodigious Waterson siblings, bolstered by a who’s-who of the Brit-folk universe (Eliza’s parents included.) Dominated by the austere, haunting, idiosyncratic and sometimes surreal songs of Lal—given stark, pristine acoustic accompaniment from Martin Carthy and Richard Thompson—it’s also punctuated by jaunty curios such as playfully pun-filled, gang-sung opener “Rubber Band,” ragtime gangster skiffle “Danny Rose,” the slightly phantasmagoric “Magical Man” and the sublime, country-tinged title track. It’s a fascinating document, well worth a look from fans of any of the above.

Meanwhile, back in 2017, founding Fairport member Judy Dyble (who was replaced by Sandy Denny after decamping to join King Crimson precursor Giles, Giles And Fripp) has teamed with retro-minded DJ/producer Andy Lewis to dust off another corner of bygone Britannia on Summer Dancing, connecting the dots between late-’60s folk sounds and the era’s baroque, pastoral and/or lysergic pop music. Think plenty of harpsichords, recorders and autoharp, and bucketloads of trippy effects and ambient sound fragments, united by Dyble’s still remarkably pure-toned soprano. The results echo any number of indelibly British daydreamers, from Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and XTC at its wispiest on down to Saint Etienne and the Clientele: rife with memory and magic, as fragrant and saturated as a sticky, sleepless summer night.

K. Ross Hoffman

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