If you dust off the English folk revival of the late 1960s, you're bound to come across the name of Dave Swarbrick at least a couple of times. As a fiddler who plays with remarkable grace and lift, Swarbrick brought new influences into the traditional fiddle repertoire, a contribution for which he is still remembered. Rags, Reels & Airs is a re-release of one of Swarbrick's first recordings, offering 18 tracks of traditional material that opened doors for many musicians and listeners. Swarbrick is assisted on most of the tracks by long-time musical partner Martin Carthy (although his playing at that time had not yet developed into the trademark Carthy style). In addition, Swarbrick gets backing from Diz Disley's jazz-influenced guitar on a couple of rags. At the time of this recording (1967), Swarbrick and Carthy were one of the most popular duos on the British folk circuit.
The release features plenty of mandolin playing from Swarbrick, which he plays almost as much as the fiddle. Even from this date, Swarbrick's facility with variations and ornaments can be heard on his delicate rendering of "The Cuckoo's Nest" or when he puts "The Kid on the Mountain" through its paces. In some cases, one can hear the American roots style coming through, such as on "Spanish Ladies Medley" or "Staten Island."
For the collector, this is an important early release. But make no mistake, this is not the best work from any of the players (and it is a testament to Swarbrick and Carthy that their skills have matured quite significantly since these early days). Nevertheless, it already contains sparks of creativity which went on to burn steadily in the 30-some years since this recording hit the folk clubs. - Ivan Emke
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