Eclection

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With a name coined by Joni Mitchell to acknowledge the eclectic nature of the UK assemblage of musicians from Norway (Georg Hultgreen), Canada (Michael Rosen), Australia (Kerrilee Male, Trevor Lucas), and the UK (Gerry Conway), Eclection was a band perched at the nests of jangly folk-rock, sunshine pop, and symphonic rock. This criminally obscure orchestral folk-rock platter was recorded and released by Elektra in 1968, meeting with no commercial success, but winding up firmly ensconced in the pantheon of connoisseurs of that era. It's the kind of record that could've easily launched a group into the stardom that Fairport Convention was quickly acquiring at the same time, but even with the imprint of a prestigious and hip label, somehow got a short straw in an explosion of creative rock music that's still being sifted through to this day.

The multi-national quintet bore an overabundance of talent, quite conspicuously in the case of vocals. Female vocalist Kerrilee Male was in the same league as Sandy Denny, and the way her heavenly voice floats above concise and rich symphonic textures recalls the finest moments of Annie Haslam in Renaissance. Just on the basis of this album, Male has a solid place in my top thirty or so female vocalists. It probably would've been better if the group had just one great male vocalist to balance the sound, but instead they had several men with enough talent to carry a band on their own as a frontperson. Happily for us, all this vocal talent makes the album a benchmark by which to judge the male/female vocal harmonies that flourished in that era and sadly have long lost their foothold in popular music culture. Between the vocal harmonies and the bright, sunny blend of acoustic and electric guitars, it's understandable they're sometimes compared to The Mamas & The Papas, but I find Eclection vastly superior to the underwhelming pleasantries of that California unit. For me, perhaps the only 60s group that I'd rank as high in terms of male/female vocal blends is The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, a group that was so consistently stunning in every aspect that they make my 60s pop top five (alongside The Beatles, The Byrds, The Idle Race, and The Action).

It's noteworthy that the group beckons those American references. While the similarities to Fairport Convention and other UK folk-rock bands is unmistakable, Eclection was a rare bird in that scene, and the sunny orchestral part of their sound is marked contrast to Fairport's stripped-down and edgy tendencies. Primary songwriter Georg Hultgreen (who later changed his surname to Kajanus—his mother was Norwegian sculptor Johanna Kajanus) was a Norwegian who made his way to the jumping London scene by way of stints in Paris and Quebec. The notion that Eclection were on the wrong side of the Atlantic is corrorobated by Kajanus in an interview:

I would agree that the musical direction of the group was probably closer to American folk-rock than anything else. I must confess, having spent my formative musical years haunting the folk clubs in Montreal, Canada and watching all the current folk and folk/rock programs on TV, I was strongly influenced by this music. The most influential artists for me at the time were people like Dylan, the Byrds, Fred Neil, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, and Gordon Lightfoot. Pre-Eclection, I was a purist fighting the acoustic battle versus the electric "demons" creeping into the scene. I remember being shocked when Dylan went electric. It is therefore ironic that I should end up a few years later playing an electric 12-string in Eclection.

The connections to UK music won out in the end, though. Bass guitarist Trevor Lucas was the boyfriend and future husband of Sandy Denny and went on to form Fotheringay with Denny and Eclection's drumkitter, Gerry Conway, resulting in their magnificent eponymous release in 1970. Denny went on to a solo career; Lucas went on to join Fairport Convention (as did Conway a few years ago); and Conway went on to be a fixture in the Cat Stevens camp for a while.

"Nevertheless" was one of several singles spun off the album to little public response, and it's not only my favorite Eclection track, but probably my all-time favorite folk-rock tune alongside Judy Dyble's addictive rendering of "I Don't Know Where I Stand" on the first Fairport Convention album. Like so many great songs, it's a brief sweet spot in the core melody that makes it transcendent. The modulation of tempo before the chorus is another part of the song that pushes it into the realm of the sublime. Everything else about the song is perfect too, but that's not to say the other songs aren't just as rich in crafty details and timeless melodies. Not a single cover in the bunch, every song on here is a masterpiece and it's a reliably uplifting disc when lilting, gorgeous vintage folk rock is called for. I find myself returning to it again and again, sometimes heading straight for "Nevertheless", but usually winding up in a reverie that gives the whole program a spin, if not two or three.

~Michael Anton Parker

Posted by maparker on August 28, 2005 12:17 PM
Comments

Just got the Eclection CD the other day (June 15, today is June 17, 2007). I've played it three times already. Would not have purchased it if not for Trevor Lucas (and the Fairport-Fotheringay-Denny connection). It is an astonishing disc with amazing harmonies and while the occasional orchestration might be a little over the top, it still fits it in well. Kerrilee Male is (was?) an amazing vocalist (Kate Bush is the tops in my estimation), and to find that she just up and quit the whole music scene. Wonder if she has any idea how good she was then?

Posted by: Rando Wilson at June 17, 2007 7:35 PM

I used to Kerrilee Male as a teenager. I have never heard her sing. So, I must try and get a track or two and listen. I suspect that she did know how good she was, but she came from a working class family, and probably had a "belief system" that refused to allow her to rise to great heights. Lovely girl.

Posted by: Clement at October 3, 2007 10:04 PM


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