Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart (reissue)


    The liner notes for the reissue of C.O.B.’s Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart, originally released in 1972 on Polydor, say the record should be included “in the pantheon of classic albums” because it is has come to be regarded as “the epitome of acid folk.” This may be the case, but a more cynical listener might see this reissue as a well-timed effort to cash in on the folk revival that has swept through independent rock music. After all, if you like Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, you’ll probably like C.O.B. But the more relevant question is this: Is it worth listening to?


    This time, the answer is yes. C.O.B. is an acronym for Clive’s Original Band, Clive being Clive Palmer, a storied figure in the British folk scene who was a founding member of the hugely influential Incredible String Band. Returning to England after traveling through India and Afghanistan, Palmer moved to Cornwall, a rural area with a vibrant music scene. Here, he met like-minded musical collaborators in John Bidwell and Mick Bennett, the “original band” of the C.O.B. equation. By the end of the decade, the threesome was making music together at a prolific rate. Using acoustic guitars, organs, violins, bongos and the droning “dulcitar” (a modified dulcimer of the band’s own design), the band carved out a singular sound within Britain’s crowded folk landscape.


    Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart was C.O.B.’s second release and its first with a hilarious name. But this is not a “joke” record by any stretch. Rather, it is a ten-track grab-bag of droning, world-music-influenced British folk that serves as a snapshot of a long-defunct but hugely influential musical scene. This reissue, an “official” release after several bootleg versions had surfaced, includes no bonus tracks but does feature an illustrated eight-page booklet that helps the listener put Moyshe McStiff in the proper historical context. At its best, it sounds timeless. At its worst, it sounds of its time. But at all times, the album is endearing in its sincerity and lack of pretense.


    Some tracks, such as the Biblically themed “Lion of Judah” and “Solomon’s Song,” don’t hold up particularly well some thirty-three years later, largely due to unintentionally comical lyrical content and overwrought instrumentation. The more personal, stripped-down songs, such as Palmer’s “Let It Be You” and Bennet’s “Pretty Kerry,” remain as beautiful today as when they were first written. Elsewhere, “O Bright-Eyed One” predicts the emergence of a 21st-century Nebraskan as music’s savior, while the insistent bongos and forceful vocals of “I Told Her” are as close to “rocking out” as the lads get.


    If the commercial success of the original Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart is any indication (it tanked), the members of C.O.B. wrote and played with little regard for how their anachronistic music would be accepted by the mainstream. But damn if it doesn’t seem like they had fun making it. That might not make Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart a classic record, but it definitely makes it a worthwhile listen.

  (web site of album’s producer) (album description on distributor’s home page)

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