BABY WHALE – The Downhill Climb

Baby Whale are so obscure that they don’t even rate a mention in my prog/psyche/folk Bible ‘Tapestry Of Delights’, which is something of a shame as this 1973 example of British folk-rock is an extremely fine piece of work. The band formed in Cambridge in 1972 when folk trio Goody Two Shoes added jazz bassist Adrian Kendon and renamed themselves Baby Whale. Opening track ‘The Old Man And The Sea’ showcases the glorious vocals of Anne Baker, which we will hear throughout the rest of the album, and the understated violin adds to the already atmospheric feel of the song. The album is a mixture of self-penned and traditional songs, with the latter often tagged onto the end of an original, as with Baker’s ‘Cornfields’ seguing into a beautiful version of ‘The Cuckoo’. Steve Brooks has a go at writing next, but I must say that his ‘This Time’ is so out of place after the opening trio of folk gems that it sounds like a completely different band, and the gimmicky ending doesn’t help at all. Luckily Baker’s ‘Circles And Circusses’ brings things back on track, with another haunting ballad enhanced by some lyrical slide guitar. Brooks is back next with his ‘Dependable Spokes’ – a country hoedown tune with plenty of banjo picking and a decidedly down-home feel. Once again it sounds out of place, and you can start to see a pattern emerging in the songwriting. ‘Things Are Not Free’ is another Brooks effort, and while much better that his other offerings it still leans too heavily on the country over the folk genre, while he shows that he can write good songs with his ‘This Ain’t My Life’ and ‘Cabin Town’, somewhat making up for his earlier aberrations. ‘Easy Feeling’ and ‘The Strangler’ round off the album with the lovely folk of the former and the CSNY stylings of the latter. Due to unfortunate circumstances (the miner’s strike and three day week, and the subsequent vinyl shortage) the album could not be pressed at the time of recording, and so we have had to wait until now to hear the work of this under-rated band. Luckily Kissing Spell have now issued the album on CD, and despite the couple of laspes of quality control it is still an extremely enjoyable listen, and is a must for folk and folk-rock enthusiasts.