Dawn 1971 / Talking Elephant 2022
Wrapping the whopping 21 pieces in a folk-rock cloth, Maidenhead’s flock sell their wares cheaply on the outside and richly on the inside.
Too often mistaken for Mike Heron’s project of the same name, HERON and ISB were contemporaries but the Berkshire team left a fainter footprint on the musical terrain than their Scottish peers – and yet the two albums the Englishmen laid down in the early ’70s became more than cult classics. Or was it three albums – because “Twice As Nice & Half The Price” got issued on two LPs which costed as a single platter? Doesn’t matter, though, as all the songs fit on one CD now. What matters is artistic atmosphere of this endeavor – preserved for posterity outside a country cottage in Devon and still retaining aroma of those idyllic surroundings and of those times.
As a result, the listener will be immediately eased into the record by the laidback “Madman” whose traditional core is given an unexpected Caribbean vibe with an intricate, albeit light, guitar jangle and joyous handclaps, before the ensemble unfold a honeyed, organ-filled fatigue of “Take Me Back Home” in front of one’s starving soul, and only then default to pastoral vocal harmonies and piano ripples of “Love 13” and the innocent strum ‘n’ rustle of “Miss, Kiss” to land on the lawn and meet the dawn. They deceptively defuse Dylan’s “John Brown” by defying its protest message with an especially composed, fresh-scented tune that, in fact, stresses the song’s sentiment, but they also deliver a surprisingly faithful, if roughly spun, take on Smokey’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” that opened the pop-minded second disc of the vinyl package.
Its too halves are linked through the ethereal balladry of “Winter Harlequin” and “Harlequin 5” – the former multilayered epic of many parts where ivories imitate woodwind, vocals get passed around from Tony Pook to his fellow players and further on, and transparent instrumental passages search for a chamber environment to inhabit; the latter, the album’s finale, a haunting soundscape where voices flicker around until the drums shatter infectious psychedelia to smithereens. Yet otherwise, there’s striking stylistic variety on display from Laurel Canyon lull of “The Sound Of Music” and Appalachian whine of Woody’s “The Great Dust Storm” to the brilliant, tremulous acoustic reading of “This Old Heart Of Mine” and the boogie abandon of “Getting ’em Down” – but nothing can compare to the electric exquisiteness of “Minstrel And A King” and another rock madrigal, “The Devil”: the most perfect mold of folk and rock on offer.
This was the last issue from the band who split in 1972 and returned in 1998 before they came up with a slew of new releases that didn’t measure up to the collective’s old output, “Twice As Nice & Half The Price” remaining a well of reminiscences and a source of simple joys.