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Marc Brierley - Autograph Of Time: The Complete Recordings 1966-1970

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Artist: Marc Brierley

Album: Autograph Of Time: The Complete Recordings 1966-1970

Label: Castle Music

Review date: Jul. 17, 2005

Autograph Of Time collects the complete recorded output of British singer-songwriter Marc Brierley, including two LPs and two singles released by CBS, and his debut EP for the legendary folk label Transatlantic. None of the material had been reissued on CD before and all of the original records are extremely difficult to find not to mention incredibly expensive so it comes as no surprise that Brierley hasn't been remembered as well as similar artists like Roy Harper or even Bill Fay, whose music has recently undergone a substantial resurgence in popularity. In order to neatly fit the material on two discs, Castle Music has packaged it in not-quite-chronological order, starting with the two full-length albums Welcome To The Citadel (1969) and Hello (1970). The shorter second CD includes the rest of the singer's releases in reverse order of their release, starting with his final single "Be My Brother" from 1970, followed by 1969's "Stay A Little Longer Merry Ann," and concluding with his eponymous EP from 1966. In spite of the counterintuitive sequencing, the anthology gives the listener a good idea of Marc Brierley's brilliant musical evolution, from his early days as a straight-faced Dylanite singer-songwriter, to the whimsical and slightly psychedelic folk pop of his later work.

The Transatlantic EP is the most dark and stripped-down of all the material on this collection, featuring just Marc Brierley's voice and an acoustic guitar. At times he sounds a bit like Jackson C. Frank, an artist with whom Brierley might very well have been familiar. Donovan's early recordings must have been a big influence as well. The EP is very much in the vein of the Transatlantic label's more well-known releases by the likes of Bert Jansch and includes Brierley's only instrumental guitar piece. Its a great, if minor, release in the label's stellar discography, and a track from it was included on Sanctuary's retrospective Transatlantic Folk Box Set.

Two years after the release of his EP, Brierley's music had begun to drift in a pretty different direction. From the first song "The Answer Is," Welcome To The Citadel has a much lighter feeling. Brierley still sings and plays an acoustic guitar and is accompanied on the album by a full band, including a drummer and a bass player. Many of the songs are augmented by trumpet, violin or cello. The songs are a little more sophisticated and Brierley seems to have discovered his own voice as a writer and as a singer. His vocals have a lot more range, and on the reverby "Symphony" and the closing track "Thoughts And Sounds" he sounds a lot like Tim Buckley circa Goodbye And Hello. Lyrically, Brierley's penchant for absurdity becomes a bit more apparent on Welcome To The Citadel, with track titles like "Hold On, Hold On, The Garden Sure Looks Good Spread On The Floor." It would be easy to dismiss some of Brierley's lyrics, particularly on songs like the first album's "Take Me For A Ride On Your Aeroplane" and "Making Love," as flippant or silly, but I would argue that just because they're optimistic and not at all brooding doesn't mean they don't have depth.

Hello might be described as a bit more ambitious than the first LP, and certainly more commercial. The arrangements are a lot bigger, with the string section from the London Symphony Orchestra hired to play on a couple of tracks and a lot of well-placed Hammond organ. There's a lot more stylistic variety from one song to the next, the tongue-in-cheek, honky-tonk shuffle of "O Honey" (featuring Dudley Moore, Arthur himself, on the piano!) transitioning into "A Presence (I Am Seeking)" with sparse acoustic guitar, flute, and Eastern hand percussion. The poppier songs on Hello remind me a little bit of some of the stuff on Cat Stevens' first two records, although nothing Brierley wrote is nearly as infectious as "Here Comes My Baby." If anything comes close, its his hugely uplifting final single "Be My Brother," which sounds to me like it should've been a massive hit. The other single, "Stay A Little Longer Merry Ann," is pretty damn good, too, and is notable for its now infamous producer and arranger: a teenage Andrew Lloyd Webber, believe it or not.

Brierley, today a freelance photographer and journalist, wrote the reissue's great liner notes, in which he reminisces about the minutia of his career. He talks about having a terrible cold the week he was in the studio for Welcome To The Citadel and about the tremendous difficulty he had with recording his vocals and guitar parts separately. He also has a word or two to say about his influences and about the ideas behind some of his songs. His thoughtful and charming remarks are merely the icing on the cake of this near-perfect package, a long overdue introduction to a unique and remarkable artist whose music is more than worthy of a prime spot in the folk-rock canon.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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