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These liner notes, for the 1971 first album by the unique Canadian avant-folk duo Fraser & DeBolt, is by a young writer who still may be in search of his voice, but who has great ears and a passionate belief in the power art.
Fraser & Debolt
with Ian Guenther
When the man from Columbia gave me the acetate of this album, I didn't know anything about Fraser and Debolt. Now I know one thing about them: they have produced one of the best pop albums I have ever heard.
I have been living and breathing this music for a week, trying to assemble the combination of words that will allow me to communicate to you a little about this extraordinary record. It is so unusual, so special, so beautiful, that there is almost no superlative that I would shy away from using to describe it.
Fraser and DeBolt impress you first with the apparent artlessness of their vocals. Although I know nothing about them, I can only guess that they grew up close to the land, that the freedom and spontaneity of their style is related to the field songs, hymns and homemade music of farmlands of the Canadian Midwest. And that the extraordinary care with which this spontaneity is achieved is a product of city life and exposure to serious pop, folk and other forms of contemporary music. There have been very few vocal teams that have seemed so loose and yet have been as perfectly integrated as this duo. For the vocals alone, this would be a winning album.
The next thing you notice is the musicianship. With some surprise you find that all this music is coming from only three musicians, Fraser and DeBolt, and Ian Guenther, their fiddler, whose playing is more organic, more an integral part of the music, than any fiddling yet offered on a pop record. Matched with the guitar in the same symbiotic relationship as the voices, Guenther's fiddle is an imposing music machine.
Nor are the songs unworthy of the musicians. There is some amazingly good writing on this album about angels and gypsies and lovers and friends. The melodies are delightful and powerful in turn, original and eclectic in the best sense of each of those words. If it is any on thing, I suppose the music on this album is folk music, though it is so infused with other styles that it takes on a life of its own outside categories. And the lyrics, so often the weakest part of pop music, are superb, simple, strong, lovely. There are verses on this album so simple and direct, and yet so intelligent, that you wonder at the creative intellect that can remain this tight with reality.
And I mean that quite literally. I have listened to this album over and over again and liked it better each time. I am convinced that there is something new happening here, and that this strange, beautiful record, and this trio of musicians, will help shape the music of the coming decade. Clearly, they have felt the music that has gone before them, especially that of the last decade, and just as clearly they know what they themselves want to say. There are moments on this album when the only possible responses are to laugh aloud or to cry, and there are very few aesthetic experiences that genuinely produce those effects. A friend of mine compares this music to Honegger's; and there are times, in listening, when I have associated them in my mind with one musical memory or another, but finally they have come to seem something else to me, something akin to experience in the way they destroy the illusion of illusion. Art is by its very nature artificial and few artists ever achieve the feeling that their work is wholly "natural" or real, but even when their music is most stylized, as in "Gypsy Solitaire," or their lyrics most poetic, Fraser and DeBolt manage to convey a sense of direct communication. How many songs have you heard that can accurately reduce the essence of angelhood to a single phrase or capture the nature of a love affair in a word?
The final thing you note about this album is the fantastic good feeling that pervades it from beginning to end. Not only do Fraser and DeBolt and Guenther please and surprise us, but they apparently do the same to each other several times during the proceedings. The last time a spontaneous laugh graced a record it was Dylan's and that was quite a while ago. Since pop became art, it has been rare to find musicians who are both talented and unstuck on themselves.
The occasion to wholeheartedly recommend a new album comes infrequently enough in a reviewer's life to make these notes an especial pleasure. Back in the days when I was a d.j., I used to plague my listeners every time I discovered a good new album. If I were on the air right now I would be devoting whole shows to Fraser and DeBolt. But for heaven's sake, don't take my word that this is a great album. Listen to it. That's the only way you'll know for sure.
I sure am going to hate to give back this acetate.
The credit on the record's jacket read -- John Gabree, High Fidelity, 1971 -- and I can't remember whether it was written directly for Columbia or first for High Fidelity. Not that it matters. I stand by every word (well, maybe not Honegger). This remains one of my favorite albums, as fresh and challenging and touching and fun today as it was when it was first released . If you see a cd of this album, don't buy it; it's a bootleg, and the artists get nothing. Instead, send a note to Columbia records and tell them you're waiting for the rerelease. A documentary about Fraser & DeBolt being made in Canada by producer Rachel Sanders may be enough to inspire Columbia to open its vault. Where is Rhino when you need it?
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