Reveals a compelling talent that has perhaps been unfairly overshadowed.
Cherry Red’s anthology of Marian Segal, a lesser-known figure in‘70s British folk, reveals a compelling talent that has perhaps been unfairly overshadowed by the more celebrated example of Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention. Consumers burned once too often by sprawling sets that would have been better condensed to a single disc may be apprehensive about shelling out for three CDs of music by a moderately obscure folk artist. But anyone coming fresh to Fly on Strangewings will find there’s barely a clunker in more than three hours of music.
The centerpiece is Fly on Strangewings, the sole album by Segal’s group Jade. Originally released in 1970, the often magical folk-pop album consists entirely of Segal originals. Fading in on a lush acoustic arrangement with strings, “Amongst Anenomes” opens the album with a soaring pastoral that makes you forget its title is a clever tongue-twister. Segal uses her vibrato sparingly, with a dryer and perhaps less mannered voice than Denny, lending the right amount of drama to a mysterious and perhaps cautionary lyric: “Sheep from the meadows/ Don’t stray too far from the fields.” Pete Sears’ bass grounds the acoustic reveries and harmonies, which gently build as the song moves from the fields to the sea, and the twin acoustic guitar by Dave Waite and Segal run through a series of delicate fills that add tension to the dreamlike vision.
It’s a heck of a way to start a folk album, and Jade steps back a bit with the more conventional “Raven,” which begins with Waite’s solo voice on a more old-fashioned ballad, but this too reaches mystical heights. A sparely dramatic piano starts the album’s anthemic title track, which briefly suggests what early Elton John might have sounded like if he’d embraced mildly psychedelic folk. The band moved along with a simmering pulse – “Mayfly” could have been simply a fine, rustic meditation on frail, fleeting life, but Sears and session drummer Mick Waller anchor a solid sound.
While Strangewings is the marquee album, two more discs cover Segal’s career before and after the short-lived Jade. Disc two is an expansion of late ‘60s duo material by Waite and Segal that was first issued in 2004 as Paper Flowers. For a collection of forgotten session tapes, it’s a fairly coherent and consistently engaging set of originals and covers, including Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” which Segal’s pretty but matter-of-fact delivery makes her own.
Disc three compiles ‘70s sessions with Segal and Jeff Wayne, perhaps best known for a musical version of War of the Worlds (but try not to imagine that). This disc includes a surprisingly successful country-rock cover of the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” but that’s unfortunately followed by the set’s weakest track, “So Sure Tonight,” which sounds like a retread of “Running on Empty”-era Jackson Browne. Yet it’s a minor blip; bonus tracks include the demo “Swallow,” a thrilling acoustic rocker that’s one of the highlights of the entire set.
Fly on Strangewings also features session musicians like guitarist Chris Spedding, Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks and King Crimson bassist John Wetton, but no matter the lineup, there’s a consistency throughout most of these three discs that can be credited to Segal’s vision. As a three-disc set for the price of two CDs, the anthology is a bargain for fans of British folk.