Enchanted Garden - Reviewed by David Kidman

Enchanted Garden Album COverHere’s a name from the dim and distant past! Judy started off in the first-ever incarnation of Fairport Convention, in the pre-Sandy Denny lead vocalist role, then left after recording just one album and single, subsequently teaming up with ex-Them man Jackie McAuley in Trader Horne and recording the beauteous, classic Morning Way album. And that was pretty much that, for Judy then retired from music as far as we can make out. But now she’s back, revitalised – and sounding every bit as coolly captivating in the vocal department (the years have been very kind to her voice) on Enchanted Garden (do we call it her comeback?). In many ways, Enchanted Garden is a “pick things up where they left off” creation, for both its lyrics and sound-world take the folky-prog ambit on through to fully-fledged prog-rock-with-folky-touches. Synths and keyboard programming here largely take the place of acoustic percussion instruments and tinkling guitars, pianos and harpsichords – just as you’d expect of a contemporary equivalent or update. And the lyrics (mainly Judy’s own) are very much in the time-honoured prog-romantic mould, if at times a tad vague or even over-simplistic. But what’s different is that on the purely musical front, economy of expression has been jettisoned in favour of more sprawling and (sadly) rather repetitive devices, and this means that most tracks tend to outstay their welcome – having made their point well, and often with some really enticing and imaginative ideas and sounds, in say four minutes, the riffs and chord sequences are prolonged for longer than their musical interest can ideally stand credibility and the final lines of text just repeated “to fade” and sometimes well beyond. Which is a shame, for the album has plenty of genuinely charming and attractive passages, whether luxuriating in eastern-tinged exotics (the title track) or delta-funk (Rivers Now) or Afro-patterned rhythms (Summer Gathers), or prog pomp in the true King Crimson fashion, or else swaying to a pulsing lifebeat (Long Way Home, Neu! Blue) or swathed in Hawkwind-type washes of electronics (For You); and as I’ve said, Judy herself is sounding just fine. The ten tracks on Enchanted Garden are all joint compositions between Judy and percussionist/keyboardist Marc Swordfish, some with additional words or ideas by others involved in the production and one with words by poet Brian Patten. Ancillary but certainly vital elements in the musical tapestry are provided by violinist Simon House (remember him from 70s proggers High Tide?), who with Stevie B (saxes) and Peter Pracownik (guitars) is responsible for the majority of the backing that doesn’t involve hands on keyboard; guest musicians for isolated contributions to four of the tracks include David Gates. In spite of its occasional longueurs, then (hey, what would prog be without them?), this captivating release is still worth your investigation.

David Kidman-