Tributee: Richard Fariña.
Personnel: Iain Matthews (guitar); Andy Roberts (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bouzouki, dulcimer, mandolin); Clive Gregson (acoustic guitar); Mark Griffiths (mandolin).
Liner Note Authors: Iain Matthews; Thomas McKean; Andy Roberts.
Recording information: Andy's House, Brighton (??/2014-02/2015); Griff's House, Bringhurst (??/2014-02/2015); The Congress House Studio, Austin, Texas (??/2014-02/2015); Andy's House, Brighton (1999); Griff's House, Bringhurst (1999); The Congress House Studio, Austin, Texas (1999).
Photographers: Daniel Kramer ; Iain Matthews.
Plainsong, the group led by British folk-rock veterans Iain Matthews and Andy Roberts, broke up in 2012, even going so far as to name their final album Fat Lady Singing, but if they were going to reunite, at least they did it with a noble purpose in mind. Matthews is a longtime fan of Richard Fariña, the gifted singer and songwriter who cut two strong albums with his wife Mimi Fariña (Joan Baez's sister) and published the novel Been Down So Long It Feels Like Up to Me before dying in 1966 in a motorcycle accident on his 26th birthday. Eager to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Fariña's passing, Matthews and Roberts hoped to assemble a tribute album with a variety of artists covering his songs, but when that proved impractical, the pair decided instead to reassemble Plainsong for one final album devoted to Fariña's songs, joined by longtime bassist Mark Griffiths, with Clive Gregson appearing on one track from a session recorded in 1999. Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Fariña is thorough enough to include "Sombre Winds," a song that Fariña wrote but never recorded (it previously existed only on sheet music), and Matthews sings these songs with the enthusiasm and care of a true fan. Matthews clearly appreciates the ambitious wordplay and edgy wit of Fariña's lyrics, and Roberts shows his respect for the melodies with his adept instrumental work, but even if this is a set of fine songs played by gifted musicians who honor their source material, Reinventing Richard doesn't really bring much new to Fariña's repertoire. Ultimately, the album sounds more like a Plainsong record than a tribute to a great but overlooked songwriter, with the group's easygoing approach lacking the energy to shake something new out of the material. That said, Reinventing Richard is quite a good Plainsong album, full of deft instrumental work and splendid harmonies, and the performances and liner notes make it clear this project was a labor of love for all involved. If there's more fire in Fariña's original albums (which, incidentally, are still in print), Reinventing Richard is an impassioned reminder of his small but vital body of work, and fans of Plainsong and Richard Fariña will both find much to enjoy in it. ~ Mark Deming