Album Reviews

Julie Felix – The Rainbow Collection

(Steve Hands) UK release date: 18 October 2004

The stock of Brit-Folk has rarely been so high. Salutaryre-appraisals of The Incredible String Band and Fairport Conventionabound, while the Witchseason productions of Joe Boyd are now the stuffof legend. Donovan‘s late Sixties recordings sound fresher thancampside cooking, and with his electronic interpretations of ancestralsongs, 22-year old Jim Moray may even succeed in taking Folkinto the mainstream.

It’s a good time for sexagenarian Julie Felix to step back into thespotlight. California raised, but adopted as one of our own back inBlighty, Julie Felix was brought to fame after a chance meeting with DavidFrost. A veteran of the Sixties folk boom, her ownUK TV series, and the legendary Isle Of Wight Festival, there is plentyof turf to reclaim. With the help of some heavyweight studio players(Ian Catt, Danny Thompson and John Paul Jones to name but three), TheRainbow Collection should be an unqualified success.

It’s certainly difficult to argue with Felix’s credentials for therole of guitar-slingin’ agitator. Returning to England in the late 80s,Felix became a noted figure in women’s gay rights and peace protests.Her work for Latin American refugees is reflected in the many Spanishlanguage recordings on this collection.

Assembled from recordings over the last thirty years, The RainbowCollection is certainly beautifully played, not least by Felix herself.But…but…but…The Rainbow Collection belongs purely in an alternativeworld where Bob Dylan never played the Newport Folk Festival, wherethe archness of Masters Of War and the hope of Children Of Abrahamwould still sound like clarion calls-to-arms for earnest young liberaltypes. There’s no doubting the commitment, but there’s something binary andabsolutist in performing straight such material in the twenty-firstcentury.

Of course, the modern world is in direr need of peace protests thanever before (when isn’t it?), but there’s a homespun quality to thematerial that is unlikely to inspire many to rage against thatever-imperious war machine.

Perhaps part of the problem is that much of the record has anunerring similarity to BBC Schools programming soundtracks from theseventies. Guitars are plucked with primary-coloured heartiness, and Felix’svoice quivers throughout like a Play School Joan Baez. Dylanstandards such as Hard Rain and Mr. Tambourine are given a shrill readingwhile songs like Woman and The Ballad Of Doris Kathryn Rodehaver arewell-meant but mawkish deliberations on femininehood and suffer from a literalmotherlode of sentiment. And after John Cale and JeffBuckley, does the world need another treatment of Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah?

If there are brighter moments to this set, then the hoary treatmentof Wild Mountain Thyme, buoyed, rather than burdened by a choir,provides the careful conflation of fear and reverence that informs some ofthe best Folk. Half-Mexican herself, Felix brings informed authority toWoody Guthrie‘s Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (AKA Deportee), andindeed, Los Mananitas and La Barert De Oro, sung entirely in Spanish, havea unforced intimacy lacking in many of the other recordings.

If good politics always equalled great music, the eternal veritiesof humanity just might be resolved overnight (alright, maybe over thecourse of a week…) As it rarely does, I guess those Masters of War willbe ‘building their bombs’ for some time yet.

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