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Robin Williamson & His Merry Band, "Journey's Edge"

cover image After the dissolution of the Incredible String Band in 1975, co-founder Robin Williamson relocated in Los Angeles and began writing songs for what would become his second solo album after 1972's Myrrh. Recruiting members for his Merry Band, Williamson returned to Celtic and British traditions to create songs of mood-based storytelling. In addition to the album proper, this reissue includes ten previously unreleased demos cut with Stan Schneir of latter-day ISB that are every bit as good as the album itself.

 

Fledg'ling

Given the context, it's not surprising that the first few songs deal with travel and looking backwards. He sings of world travel while a girl waits for him in California on "Border Tango," while he rides into a new town with only "a bloody rose in my lapel/whiskey in the jar" on "The Tune I Hear So Well." "Red Eye Blues" has him pining for someone he left behind, but on "Tomorrow," he's finally focused on the future and is convinced he's living in "Mythic Times." Although many of the songs are lighthearted, it's Williamson's emotional sincerity that gives them weight. The only track in which he gets a bit too silly is the cover of Lewis Harris and John Jacob Loeb's "The Maharajah of Mogador." Although it's amusing, the humor wears off after a few listens.

Williamson's Merry Band is a big key to this album's success. The exceptional musicianship of Chris Caswell, Jerry McMillan, and Sylvia Woods is evident on every track. Woods' harp playing in particular is elegant and enchanting, complementing this material perfectly. Yet it's Williamson's voice that remains the biggest draw. His nuanced manner of drawing out ordinary syllables or suddenly infusing them with emotion lends the songs an easy charm. This is also the case with the demo recordings included on this disc, ensuring that there's essentially little or no drop in quality.

Williamson's mix of tradition and contemporaneity gives these songs a surprisingly timeless nature. Journey's Edge is a remarkable album, one that's far more joyful and rewarding than its lackluster cover may suggest.

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Review of the Day

broadcast, "pendulum"
Warp
It's been over two years since we last heard from Broadcast, but they've finally graced us with a new 6-song EP, to be followed later this year by their second full-length album. Pendulum, which will have to tide fans over until then, is a formidable taster of things to come. The overall aesthetic is similar to that of their previous work: moody psychedelia sweetened by Trish Keenan's airy, hypnotic vocals. What's different is an evolution of the band's use of percussion and synthesizers. The title track shows a definite expansion on the sometimes trippy, sometimes icy melodic themes found on their last album. Even on minimal tracks like "Small Song IV" and "Still Feels Like Tears," the complex, yet adeptly handled drum rustles and angular patches of synths leap out amongst the atmospheric "aaah aaaah"s. "One Hour Empire" sounds as if it were culled from the jazz-tinged score of a 1970s crime film. Pendulum is an exciting step forward for Broadcast, and is a sure sign of a promising follow-up to The Noise Made By People.

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