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Oberon - A Midsummer's Night Dream CD (album) cover

A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT DREAM

Oberon

 

Prog Folk

3.06 | 14 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars A lovely obscurity from the early Seventies, U.K seven-piece male and female member band Oberon's sole release `A Midsummer's Night Dream' from 1971 is a rough little gem of eclectic folk, jazz and psych pieces. A mix of traditional interpretations and fragile original pieces, the album finds a curious balance of murky darker and gently uncompromising material with dirtier edges and more approachable sunnier tracks by way of both a modern and old-world quality throughout, as jazzier electric guitar soloing weaves in and out of traditional folk instrumentation supplied by violin, flute and acoustic guitars.

The late period medieval folk song `Nottanum Town' is the five minute opener, a piece that has been more popularly covered by folk group Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch of Pentangle, and here Oberon give it a fairly gloomy interpretation. A faraway percussive beat rumbles behind lightly melancholic flute and soft voices sighing wordless chants with contemplative violin themes carefully reprised throughout, and female singer Jan Scrimgeour's downbeat vocal falls between brittle and stark. `Peggy' is a warmer and lightly playful acoustic guitar instrumental interlude from Chris Smith dedicated to his pet dog, before the daring nine-minute `The Hunt' weaves a dreamy and disorientating spell that aims to capture a very Gentle Giant- flavoured medieval touch. Spurts of momentum and jumps in tempo are delivered by chiming acoustic guitar shimmers, rising cymbal crashes, rattling drums, searing violin and jazzy electric guitar licks, but the production moves between crisp and putrid, and an ambitious mix of vocals remain just a little too shambling - it's never dull though! The first side is then closed with `Syrinx', a brief solo flute interpretation of a Claude Debussy piece that almost takes on a psych-folk fragility.

The second side mostly proves to be instantly more accessible, and it opens with a cover of the well-known George Gershwin showroom piece `Summertime' given a mellow sunny makeover with a jazzy pattered saunter in its step and breezy falsetto vocals, and there's frequent jamming instrumental bursts by way of twirling flute and some subtly versatile bass playing from Bernie Birchall. `Time Past, Time Come', possibly the highlight of the disc, is a pretty and glorious instrumental where infectious acoustic guitars, spiralling flute and searing violin weave a magical spell together. The eight-minute `Minas Tirith (Parts I & II)' is a mix of folky acoustic fragments and darker improvised flourishes. A plaintive wistful vocal, stirring violin and sweetly murmuring bass eventually (and somewhat disappointingly) trail off into an overlong segment of cacophonous drum soloing before lifting again with jazzy guitar flights. `Epitaph', written in tribute to a fellow schoolmate of the group at the time of recording that had unexpectedly passed away, is a warm acoustic ballad performed by Robin Clutterbuck singing Hughie Lupton's reflective words, and it's a hopeful and reassuring close to the LP.

By no means essential and likely to frustrate some listeners with its schizophrenic approach and production inconsistencies (although that often just gives the music a raw honesty), `A Midsummer's Night Dream' is one to be appreciated by fans of experimental folk groups like the Incredible String Band and Malicorne rather than something tidier and more instantly melodic like Steeleye Span or Fuchsia. But adventurous prog-folk fans looking to fill their collection with worthwhile little- known works should absolutely investigate Oberon's sole contribution, as there's fleeting little bursts of real magic popping up here and there throughout it.

Three stars - and bonus points for the lavish booklet from the 2014 Sommor Records reissue containing lovely photos and a nice recent interview with some of the performers!

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |

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