BALDWIN & LEPS – Baldwin & Leps

American duo Baldwin & Leps are an unusual folk act, in that they use the violin as the lead instrument, with the guitar relegated to providing the backing. The resulting sound is not as country-fied as this would make you think, although ‘Headin’ West’ does have a down-home vibe to it. They started out in 1970 as street musicians playing on street corners around Greenwich Village, where they were spotted by a record exec who got them a deal with Vanguard Records, and within a few months they had an album out. The album was issued in 1971, and so the lyrics dealt with such current topics as drugs, prostitution, and avoiding the draft, and despite being the work of just two men the sound is surprisingly full, with the violin adding orchestral backing when not being used as the lead instrument. The first side of the album is taken up with a five part suite called ‘Calamandatine Brown’, comprising five songs telling the story of the eponymous Miss Brown and her adventures before and after trekking to California. Of these, ‘The Dealer’ is a good up-tempo folky effort, and the moody ‘Bella Donna’ has some unusual vocal effects. The tracks on side two include the lovely ‘Cousin Brenda’, the more up-tempo ‘Blues For The City’ and the poignant ‘Stars’. The whole album has a rural hippie vibe, and Michael Baldwin’s songs and violin playing are both excellent, with Richard Leps providing a sturdy backing on both acoustic and electric guitar, especially his work on the closing ‘Beg Your Sweet Pardon’. This album has been re-issued on CD, although even that is now hard to find, but it would be worth seeking out if you are into rural Americana, or just want to hear musicians experimenting with a new musical style, and pulling it off with great aplomb.