“Changing Horses” by The Incredible String Band - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1969Album Chart of the Decade: 1960s

TJR says

By the time of their fifth album, the Increbible String Band were living communally at a farmhouse near Newport, in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where ideas could be explored on a daily basis. Previously casual participants, the two girlfriends were “promoted” to fully-fledged group members, and their presence is more to the fore, most especially with their backing vocals. The new quartet line up: Robin Williamson (lead / backing vocals, guitar, washboard, piano, flute, sarang, Chinese banjo, percussion, electric guitar, organ, gimbri, violin); Mike Heron (lead / backing vocals, electric guitar, piano, guitar, vibraphone, percussion, sitar, mandolin); Licorice McKechnie (guitar, organ, kazoo, percussion, backing vocals) and Rose Simpson (bass guitar, percussion, backing vocals).

There are six tracks to digest, with varying levels of enjoyment. “Big Ted” is ok, if not the greatest starter – perhaps just a tad too cabaret for my tastes. “White Bird” is next, and clocks in at almost 15 minutes in length. Again, it’s not too bad – but excitement levels remain muted. Side one’s closer turns out to be best; the fantastic “Dust Be Diamonds” breaks new ground for ISB, given that Mike and Robin share writing credits for the first time. It also finds the group being more tuned in than ever before with contemporary influences, with a wicked line in kazoo riffage that can only have been influenced by Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.

Flipping over, “Sleepers Awake” showcases the new quartet as unique voices, delivered a capella. “Mr and Mrs” proves to be a grower. One of the things I really like about ISB is that, at any given moment, they can seamlessly embrace today’s pop culture with ye olde folk style, and make it sound all so natural. I swear I can sense Thems’ organ warmth with the VUs coolest of guitar melody lines running through this, most especially at the end. The best is saved for last, and Robin emerges as the winner in this year’s (friendly) song contest between the two writers. It begins as the “fashionable” mega-dirge, 16 minutes in length, following in the footsteps of “Venus in Furs” (the VU), “The End” (The Doors) “The Black Plague” (Eric Burdon) and “We Will Fall” (Stooges), occasionally breaking away into some sort of weird medieval hoedown, before finishing in a Bonzo Doo Dah style with their familiar old sentiment of “sleep tight”, bless 'em. It’s quite the journey – and typical of this most untypical ensemble.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [04:21] 6.0.png The Incredible String Band - Big Ted (Robin Williamson) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A2 [14:46] 6.3.png The Incredible String Band - White Bird (Mike Heron) Alternative Folk
A3 [06:14] 8.1.png The Incredible String Band - Dust Be Diamonds (Mike Heron, Robin Williamson) Alternative Folk
B1 [03:44] 6.2.png The Incredible String Band - Sleepers, Awake! (Mike Heron) Folk
B2 [04:54] 6.7.png The Incredible String Band - Mr. And Mrs. (Robin Williamson) Folk Rock / Americana
B3 [16:04] 9.8.png The Incredible String Band - Creation (Robin Williamson) Alternative Folk

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