Mark Fry-Dreaming With Alice

December 24, 2011

Mark Fry

Dreaming With Alice (RCA 1971)

http://www.mediafire.com/?qdonqjhglzd

Some albums effortlessly capture an era. Dreaming With Alice serves as a last gasp of the hippie mysticism and pastoral innocence of 60s English folk before it was co-opted by a more cynical decade. It celebrates the wide-eyed innocence and buoyant spirit of a psychedelic movement before hearts grew more calloused, drugs took their psychic toll and the promise of a technicolor society of flower power grew hollow and decayed. 1971 was a time of disillusionment with what wasn’t accomplished as everyone slowly realized the world was more troubled and complex than could be imagined. A song wasn’t going to change the world and the opponents of the counter culture were nibbling away at the lackadaisical corpse of the 60s. The era of arena rock and rock and roll as sheer spectacle were afoot and the time for a cycle of songs about paramours and playing a flute with a dude fingering the lute by the riverside while discussing their dreams was kind of passe by this point.

Mark Fry recorded just one of many albums that could be described as a bittersweet farewell to the 60s. Even the album’s title evokes the imagery of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and champions his kinship with a psychedelic landscape that was being slowly choked by the weeds of cynicism. Maybe it’s because Mark Fry was a noted artist before he tried his hand at music that he retains the  desire to paint an alternate universe when others chose to tackle the gritty realities that awaited them when they finally came down from their incessant high.

It’s hard to discuss Dreaming With Alice without conjuring the singular namesake of Donovan. Although Fry’s voice and songwriting echoes the imagery and vibe of Donovan, Fry doesn’t just draw inspiration from the source, but opens it up wide and takes it to a psychedelic extreme. Where Donovan relied upon his pen to summon images of tangerine dreams and sunshine supermen, Fry’s take is far more whacked and visceral. Everything is full of echoes and shadow as he slows the pace of his idol to a crawl. It’s a slow-motion opiate epic that invokes a darkness amidst the light, love and lazy pace. How can you speak poorly of an album that begins with such a flourish?

“Did you pass the glass mountain?
Where Salome opened her dress.
Did you see the dolphins feathered fountain?
Oh the King made a bloody mess”

This is just a stanza, but it speaks volumes about what is being attempted on this album. The subsequent song “The Witch” is a hypnotic paean to the power of dark magick and the power it wields. Amidst all of this dark hoodoo, Fry unleashes a raga-like jam for the ages. All at once, it invokes the lexicon on the 60s, but couches it in a context that is far more suited to a coven than a bed-in. It’s an album that lives in a limbo between the pagan and the pure as he crafts a narrative that straddles a line between the purity of a hippie ideal and the stains that marred it on the way down to earth.

Richard Thompson

Small Town Romance (Hannibal 1984)

http://www.divshare.com/download/6116236-5bf

When one first encounters an artist with a vast discography, it is all too easy to reach for the accepted classics only to ignore the many back alleys and sidebars that make vast discographies so intruiging and rewarding. God knows that Richard Thompson’s solo work, collaborations with Linda Thompson as well as Fairport Convention are rife with worthwhile peaks and humdrum valleys. Thompson’s solo work of the mid 80s to the present gets ignored by anyone who doesn’t think that Ron Sexsmith and Billy Bragg are the bees knees. Actually, that is quite a slice of hyperbole, but folks rightfully gush over his brilliance in the 60s and 70s at the expense of great records like Rumour and Sigh, Amnesia and Mock Tudor. Yeah, they have their fannypack and granola munching moments, but musicians mature and evolve to varying degrees of success. However, Small Town Romance,  a live album recorded in 1982, exposes all of the sores and scabs of his divorce while exposing a vulnerable side of Thompson as he begins anew without his muse.

You can sense the hurt emanating from his voice and general demeanor as he plays. This is wholly unsurprising since 1982 was the year of his divorce from Linda Thompson. These internal and external conflicts fueled their collaborations and provided an edge lacking from his later work. Here, the edge has dulled and the furnace has gone cold. All that is left are broken pieces and he dutifully attempts to rearrange them on Small Town Romance.  He seems a bit lost without his usual foil when he tackles the songs they used to sing together. My heart really goes out to him on this one despite his own contributions to this sad conclusion.

There is one song in particular that really floors me and forces me to reflect on my own fuckups. “Beat the Retreat” deals with how he was prone to fuck things up. but took comfort in the fact that he could always retreat and find comfort in the arms of his love. On Small Town Romance, the door has been slammed shut and his backpedaling is only met by an empty bed.

Beat my retreat, back home to you
Beat my retreat, back home to you
I’m burning all my bridges
I’m burning all my bridges
I’m burning all my bridges
I’m running back home to you

Trailing my colours, back home to you
Trailing my colours, back home to you
This world is filled with sadness
This world is filled with sadness
This world is filled with sadness
I’m running back home to you

Follow the drum, back home to you
Follow the drum, back home to you
There was no sense in my leaving
There was no sense in my leaving
There was no sense in my leaving
I’m running back home to you

There is something so romantic, but flawed about the sentiment of this song. It is all about a man who can never decide what the hell he wants and blows things to holy hell, but expects his partner to welcome with open arms. There is also a deep sense of regret that permeates this song, but a sense of warmth and hope that there is someone out there in this cold world that loves you no matter what. I want to simultaneously punch and hug the man since he obviously has taken liberties, but really loves her to death and hates himself for every misstep.

It is one of those few showstoppers that renders the rest of the performances somewhat impotent by comparison. I used toincessantly listen to this song at the expense of the others. However, years have passed and the rest of the album feels like an old friend with a ton of hubris weighing it down at every turn.