The other day The New York Times ran a fairly raving review of a new book called Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music by a British music writer named Rob Young. I called it in and gave it a read. Glad I did. The book is a look back through the acid-etched looking glass to the time in the '60s and early '70s when young British musicians brought rock's spirit of experimentation-and a heavy dose of electricity-to the traditional music of their native land. The resulting folk-rock, by the likes of Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and the Incredible String Band, is, by Young's and many other's estimation, the genre's high-water mark.
Like a good music book should, Electric Eden, by dint of Young's charged, near-hallucinogenic prose and seemingly exhaustive research, sent me back to the music in question. I was only slightly familiar with the key artists before and, frankly, had dismissed some of them as overly twee and fey. Young made me hear them differently. The Incredible String Band, in particular, sounded to me like unfocused stoners. But like a great music book does, Young's made me hear the subject differently. In the case of ISB, he drew out the mysticism and philosophies that girded the band's knotty, rustic music.
In that-the revitalization of bygone music-Young mirrors the work of the artists he wrote about. But he also helps to clarify the influence that this first generation of British folk-rockers had on later musicians. The freak-folk scene of the '00s (think early Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom) owed much of its surreal, back-to-the-land ethos to Eden's subjects. But that's not to say it's simply derivative. If there's one thing to take from Young's book, it's that lineage can be a liberating. Now go listen to The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and get free.
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