Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Ian and Sylvia - So Much for Dreaming (Vanguard, 1967)
I'm not going to lie. This is probably the weakest album the Canadian folk duo recorded for the Vanguard label. That said, I'm such a big fan of Ian and Sylvia that even their lesser recordings are still worth a listen as far as I'm concerned. My two favorite albums of theirs, Early Morning Rain and Northern Journey, were recently posted on other blogs, and since I want to avoid redundancy, I'm going to keep those LPs on my shelf and instead make So Much for Dreaming available in spite of its shortcomings.
Late 1966, the time of this LP's release, undoubtedly found Ian and Sylvia's audience dwindling. Many folkies by this time had traded in their acoustic instruments for amplified electric models and became hippie rock & rollers. It's clear that the couple wasn't quite sure what direction to follow at this point, and their confusion is reflected by this album's schizophrenic combination of traditional, baroque contemporary, and attempted folk-rock material. Although their efforts to branch out are commendable, their earlier LPs - which focus on folk songs, British Isles ballads, an original composition or two, and the occasional Dylan, Cash, or Lightfoot cover - were more effectively tailored to Ian and Sylvia's strengths. They were better interpreters than songwriters, with notable exceptions such as Sylvia's "You Were On My Mind," and the preponderance of self-penned performances unfortunately drags this album down a bit.
However, there are good things to be found here. The tastefully orchestrated cover of Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" is my favorite version of this excellent song. I can still remember the impact it left on me while coming down from a psychedelic experience back in the mid-1990s. It is followed by the overwrought title track, which is balanced by the pleasant "Wild Geese," a piece with prominent autoharp that recalls the couple's earlier work. The overly-busy drums on "Child Apart" distract the listener from what is an otherwise solid performance. "Summer Wages" sounds like an autobiographical attempt by Ian at a latter-day Canadian folk song. Although it features some good electric guitar, "Hold Tight" is a pretty trivial composition from Sylvia. "Cutty Wren" gets back to what the duo does best: traditional folk songs. Great vocals on this one, too. "Si Les Bateaux" continues their tradition of occasionally including a French song on their LPs. Canada is a bilingual country, after all. "Catfish Blues" is a surprisingly outstanding version of an old blues standard. David Rae lays down some mean electric guitar, and Sylvia sings her heart out. "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies" is more traditional folk goodness and hearkens back to the sound of their previous releases. "January Morning" is probably the best of the folk-rock tracks but could use some backing vocals by Sylvia. Things conclude with another "morning" song, "Grey Morning," that is nothing special and seems to fade out too early. But maybe that's just as well.
Interesting at times, frustrating at others.
The superb Four Strong Winds is available here as an earlier post. Also, you can check out Ian and Sylvia's first foray into country rock, Great Speckled Bird, here.
1. Circle Game
2. So Much for Dreaming
3. Wild Geese
4. Child Apart
5. Summer Wages
6. Hold Tight
7. Cutty Wren
8. Si Les Bateaux
9. Catfish Blues
10. Came All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies
11. January Morning
12. Grey Morning