I guess you can call this a “A Track, A Day” exclusive. Remember the sinisterly awesome Mr. Fox band? Lead by Bob and Carole Pegg, they pioneered a darker form of neo-folk which drew from their Yorkshire Dale region. Before the dark tales of Comus, theirs was the haunting sound that shocked early folk-rockers then, especially on tracks heard in their debut self-titled album. What happened next was something typical of its time.
Bands that should have had greater influence and exposure were soundly drowned out by lack of label help. So, out of step with the more broader consumer-friendly English folk-rock boom, they made a cracking go of it with another album in 1971 called The Gipsy. This album presented a sound that was palatable but still failed to make any entry way anywhere outside their core audience. Without any label support and money to tour they had to resign themselves to something else.
|Carole – 1971|
By 1973, with the failure of Mr. Fox, Bob and Carole’s relationship soured and ended in divorce. Left with a small child to raise by herself and working a 9-to-5 job to make ends meet, she somehow found ways to refuse losing her musical career. During dire times when she felt the most hopeless and didn’t have a job to make ends meet, she’d go out to the London Underground and busk with her violin. This time presented her a time to rediscover herself and regain confidence in herself and music.
|Carolanne re-issue album cover.|
Owing Transatlantic one last album, they tried a new path for her and she willingly obliged, to a point. They would try to remake her into a solo star. Hey, it was the era of singer-songwriters, and to have a young woman they could mold could be a boon for them. They rounded up some country-lilting English musicians hoping to coerce her into adopting a more American, Laurel Canyon-type of sound. What they didn’t expect was that the musicians they hired, such as the brilliant Albert Lee, later of Emmylou Harris Luxury Liner fame, would be simpatico with her attempts to aid her quest to transform herself and sound.
What you hear on this album is truly unique for its genre. It presents the sound of Americana and experimental music transmogrified by the mystical English folk Carole mined before. Simply check out the opening track her cover of Judy Collins “Song for Judith”, now titled “Open the Door”. There’s that wonderful warm pseudo-country rock sound, but check out Carole’s vocal…drawing out, through her slithering vibrato, the pathos lingering way below the original song, in that witchy way only she could. Then you have a song like “A Witch’s Guide to the Underground” which, as I said before, a young Kate Bush must have flipped her wig when she first heard it. For such a short song its so damn interesting, mixing pastoral country melodies with the dark European sound she was affecting. There’s even time for a fiddle glam hoedown like “Mouse and Crow” that rocks like the best Cockney Rebel songs do. Who knows maybe Steve Harley flipped his wig as well when listening to Carole? shades of the Human Menagerie abound, if you listen carefully…
All of this stuff was so deliciously proto-Gothic and darkly alluring, that it boggles my mind she didn’t break out as a star. Here was someone starting to show how the other rungs of rock, the more experimental kind going around, like Nico’s Germanic Desertshore or John Cale’s Vintage Violence, can be rolled into England’s neo-folk style. You hear this in tracks like “The Sapphire” with its entrancing harmonium sound swaying with the ghostly whale sound guitar of Albert Lee. Moved by actual apparitions she experienced, she’d reintroduce her sinister fiddle playing to songs like “The Lady and the Well”, a driving dark country-dance track that recall her feelings in the face of such sights.
By the time you get to the truly epic finale “Winter People”, a track that reminds me of Roxy’s “A Song For Europe” or that great second half from “Sunset” for some reason, you’ll start to realize how truly bleeding-edge and heart-bleeding this sound was for Carole. Although, this album was a personal success for Carole, and in hindsight could have been a very influential release, the album flopped and she had to pursue other things (earning a PhD in Ethno Music for one, and reintroducing Mongolian music to the masses for another!). Worst of all, her album only got a tiny re-release in 1999, and has been out of print since then. Let’s rectify this for a bit. How about joining the select few who have actually been graced by the appearance of this album. More 1973-ish, tomorrow though…