Happy Trails 1993 / Talking Elephant 2021
British folk unglorified influencers flock to the source for one last hurray.
Four albums in seven years, spanning from 1970 to 1977 and bridging a brief breakup gap, is a scarce legacy, which couldn’t bereave this ensemble of their peers’ respect, yet the Coventry quintet neither had too much of a picturesque presence to grasp success, nor the releases rareness to be rediscovered decades later and become a cult kind of collective. The band’s creativity felt fruitful enough to let them issue strictly original material, aurally coming across as traditional reels and ballads, only concert record didn’t enter the Englishmen’s discography until 1993 when “Shadows Across The Moon” – a document of the group’s 1989 reunion for a series of Italian dates – saw the light of day. Singer Polly Bolton wasn’t there, though – but then, she wasn’t on their 1970’s debut – so the instrumentalists shared the vocal load and cherry-picked cuts from all the old platters.
The troupe begin their trip down memory lane quite lightly, if lively, Kevin Dempsey and Dave Cooper unraveling a transparent six-string web for “Railway” where guest Chris Leslie weaves in his fiddle to the hypnotic thump of Ted Kay’s tabla, and once bittersweet, albeit adventurous, melancholia is set with brooding voice, Martin Jenkins’ mandocello brings forth the frisky filigree of “Rain” that will welcome captivating communal harmonies. However, while the airy “If I Could Let Go” and “Sometimes” exude an idyllic aroma, the latter featuring a fluttering flute, “Feel Like I Want To Go Home” is passionately stormy, the band’s acoustic armory working up a dramatic frenzy.
Still, after the exquisitely relentless interplay on “Cold Wind” has cooled it all down, the insistently jovial “Road Song” jazzes up the atmosphere for the album’s violin-livened title track – apparently, a freshly composed piece (there’s no stage banter included to clarify the issue) – to loop the drift back to the misty-eyed minstrelsy. It’s there that the mesmerizing, meandering, Nick Drake-channeling “Riverboat” bares the band’s magnificent romanticism, before “Kingdom” proposes, through a rumble of Roger Bullen’s bass, a regal singalong to the veterans’ audience.
The show’s fantastic finale “Coming Back To Stay” is, of course, the hoedown of “Coming Home To Me” from the ensemble’s eponymous sophomore offering – expanded here to epic scope to include catchy country rock licks and baroque-like lace. Sadly, its promise remained unfulfilled, and the group never reconvened afterwards, this recorded report standing out as a testament to their might.