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Marianne FaithfullMarianne Faithfull
Album: North Country Maid/Loveinamist
Label: BGO
Tracks: 15+17

A 17-year-old Marianne came to swift prominence as a singer in 1964, notably after connecting with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham. The latter secured her a contract with Decca Records, under whose auspices she released a string of hit singles and four albums. The first pair of these received a CD reissue in 1989 and 1991, but have long since disappeared from the racks. All the more reason, then, to celebrate this two-disc BGO release, which collects together the third and fourth of Marianne's Decca LPs plus a number of contemporaneous non-album singles as bonus tracks. Marianne's fragile, tremulous, purely-enunciated and delicately expressive voice is immediately distinctive, and her rapid development as a chanteuse of note, though already assured by the time of her second album, is more fully charted on this pair of albums, where she unashamedly tackles what by any standards can be termed an astonishing variety of material, which with hindsight can be seen as most typical of mid-60s eclecticism at its best.

Marianne's empathy for performing traditional folk music, which figured large on her second LP Come My Way, is progressed on 1966's North Country Maid through a fresh-toned reflection of then-current trends in experimental pastoral folk. Here, with the aid of innovative arrangements by - and incorporating the playing of - guitarist friend Jon Mark, Marianne delivers a number of ambitious and quite remarkable personal takes on songs from the repertoires of contemporary acoustic folk artists such as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Jackson C. Frank. Often there's a pronounced Pentangle-like slant to the settings (as on Jansch's Green Are Your Eyes), while the heady aroma of sitar-infused acid-folk permeates She Moved Through The Fair and Wild Mountain Thyme. Marianne's interpretations of Scarborough Fair and North Country Maid are very durable indeed, the former containing some particularly neat lute-style guitar accompaniment, while Cyril Tawney's Sally Free And Easy proves an unexpected success. Sunny Goodge Street was specially written for Marianne by Donovan; the eerie How Should I Your True Love Know? is an adaptation of one of Ophelia's "mad" songs from Hamlet, and Jon Mark's own wonderfully tender composition Lullaby is a disc highlight. I might even go as far as to venture the opinion that Marianne's renditions of MacColl's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Paxton's The Last Thing On My Mind may well be counted among the finest of the innumerable versions available on record.

Loveinamist was released in 1967, and repertoire-wise returns to the intensely varied mix of musical styles which characterised Marianne's first LP, setting rich, ornate orchestrations for the pop/show-tune-oriented pieces (Jackie DeShannon, Bob Lind, Bernstein/Sondheim and Jacques Brel) alongside the more stripped-down acoustic treatments bestowed on the folkier items. There's two songs by Tim Hardin, no fewer than three lesser creations by Donovan, and a wildly over-the-top choral arrangement of Yesterday - oh yes, and a chanson-like French translation/transformation of Mick Taylor's beautiful Cockleshells (the original of which had graced the previous album). Its stylistic unevenness may well feel to be the LP's undoing, but on the other hand Marianne's adventurous spirit and well-pointed singing are definitely a saving grace, and the whole collection stands up extremely well today. And hey, wouldn't it be great if BGO are planning to reissue the first two of Marianne's Decca albums also…

David Kidman