Richard Fariña’s untimely 1966 death silenced one of the folk movement’s rapidly blossoming voices. The albums he recorded with his spouse Mimi have survived in reissue [1 2 3] and anthology, but for many listeners, Fariña’s voice doesn’t come to mind until their ears are rung by the dulcimer of “Pack Up Your Sorrows” or stung by the protest of “House Un-American Blues Activities Dream.” His songs continue to find their way into the setlists and records of other artists, but for the most faithful, they’ve served as on-going guideposts. Two of those loyalists, Iain Matthews and Andy Roberts, co-founders of Plainsong, have been performing Fariña’s works on stage and in studio for more than forty years, and now come back together to pay a more consolidated tribute.
The trio, including Mark Griffiths, offers fifteen of Fariña’s songs, including the previously unrecorded “Sombre Winds.” They focus on the songs, rather than the Fariñas’ original performances, imagining how they might sound if written and recorded today. Well, that’s not entirely true, given the bluesy doo-wop treatment of “One Way Ticket.” Perhaps it’s fairer to say that this is the sound of artists who have so deeply absorbed these songs, they can turn them back out to the world in any number of interesting forms, converting the “Sell-Out Agitated Waltz” into soulful straight time, taming the agitated ask of “Pack Up Your Sorrows” into a placid invitation and turning “Hard Loving Loser” into a summery country tune. These broader interpretations show off both the material’s innate strengths and the the interpreter’s imagination.
Other titles, including “Another Country” and “Lemonade Lady,” are given to more subtle changes, adding flecks of the interpreter’s wares while keeping closer to the original mood. The musicianship is superb throughout, and the vocals, though sung in close harmony similar to the Fariñas, are comprised of of male voices whose timbres align more closely than the Fariñas’ high-low pairing. The difference in the vocal pattern is a blessing, as it gives each interpretation an original top line, even when the songs aren’t radically reworked. It may be hard for listeners to hear past the Fariñas’ original recordings (and, in particular, surrender Richard’s driving dulcimer), but doing so lets you hear these songs anew. And in the hands of artists who’ve had a lifelong love affair with the material, the results are fresh and fascinating. [©2015 Hyperbolium]