Album Review: Plainsong - Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Farina

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Folksinger Richard Farina recorded three auspicious albums with his wife Mimi (Joan Baez’s sister) in the mid 1960s and, in 1966, issued one much-talked-about novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. At the time, it looked like up for Farina himself—until two days after the book’s publication, when he died in a motorcycle accident at age 29.

Nearly half a century later, his albums (one of which appeared posthumously) and novel all remain in print and some people continue to regard him as an important figure on the 1960s folk scene. One such person is England’s Iain Matthews, who reunited with the members of his defunct band Plainsong to record this tribute album.

Farina’s best-known song, “Pack Up Your Sorrows,” receives a sweet mandolin-spiced reading here, and the album also includes such other standouts as “Reflections in a Crystal Wind” and “Hard Loving Loser.” Surprisingly, though, Farina’s most famous political number, “Birmingham Sunday,” is missing.

The use of some electric instruments notwithstanding, there’s not as much reinvention here as the album title suggests and a bit more energy might have aided the performances. Still, the material is excellent and anyone who admires Farina’s wordplay and melodies or Plainsong’s mellow brand of folk should check out the CD.   

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon as well as Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters and Leonard Cohen…

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