North Country Maid
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/04/2009
The year 1965 was a big one for Marianne Faithfull. She had risen from virtual obscurity to become the new darling of the British pop scene. She was living with Mick Jagger at the time, and the pair remained a permanent fixture on the social scene throughout the rest of the decade. Most importantly, she was enjoying success as Britain’s premier female folk singer, which was only cemented by the release of her third LP, North Country Maid.
Her previous record (Come My Way) introduced Marianne as an ethereal folk performer, and although the pressure was on to produce a pop record, Faithfull would have none of it and turned out her second traditional folk album instead. This time around, she dug deeper into the British songbooks and came out with an enchanting mix of blues and folk songs hailing from every part of the British Isles. It was produced by Mike Leander, who would become one of Marianne’s most influential collaborators throughout her career.
One of the most notable changes from her previous records is her voice. Already it’s a little deeper and far exceeds her twenty years and little experience in maturity alone. It’s also the first time her phrasing would sound this unique, as she had obviously employed a working technique she would continue to use right up to the present day. Like its predecessor, North Country Maid is an acoustic affair, but it’s also clearly a much more emotionally driven record and the arrangements reflect the more introspective lyrical content beautifully.
The disc opens with one of Marianne’s finest moments to date, a cover of Scottish bluesman Bert Jansch’s “Green Are Your Eyes.” The easy groove is the perfect foil for Faithfull’s delivery of the lonesome lyric, and it also features a wonderful harmonica solo. “Scarborough Fair” from The Singing Island follows, and Marianne makes it sound more eerie than it should. It’s a great traditional song, best remembered for Simon & Garfunkel’s pop version, but Faithfull’s reading offers a wonderful alternative just the same.
“Cockleshells” is a slight departure here in that Mick Taylor wrote and arranged it (he arranged several tracks here), and Marianne uses her wonderful higher register for the first time. Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” follows, and it most closely resembles Faithfull’s pop ditties from her eponymous debut. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is easily the most beautiful melody on the album, and once again Faithfull’s feeling for a dramatic delivery suits the lyric perfectly.
“Sally Free And Easy” was written in the guise of English blues and tells the story of a young Maltese girl who “took a sailor’s lovin’, for a nursery game.” It’s accompanied by an up-tempo, percussive arrangement. Donovan wrote “Sunny Goodge Street” especially for Marianne and she repaid the favor with a stunning reading of the psychedelic lyric; it’s a memorable moment.
“How Should I Your True Love Know” is the first of Ophelia’s “crazy” songs in Act IV, Scene 5 of Hamlet from Songs From Shakespeare’s Plays by Tom Kines. It’s an odd inclusion on a folk album, but strangely enough it works a treat. “She Moved Through The Fair” has its roots in Irish folk and appears here in an enchanting arrangement, complete with a sitar intro. The title-track was originally called “Quodling’s Delight,” being that it appeared in Queen Elizabeth’s Virginal Book. It’s another of Marianne’s great interpretations and adds some genuine heart to the record.
Along with Mick Taylor, Jon Mark arranged and played on most of the album’s tracks. He too contributed a song himself with “Lullaby,” which is stunning in its simplicity with Marianne offering a beautiful dreamy reading of the tender lyric. The album closes rightly with a more traditional folk song in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” an ode to the green hills of the English countryside. The track is enhanced again by a quivering sitar and Faithfull’s deep, pure tones.
North Country Maid is a more in-depth study of traditional folk than Come My Way, and it’s just as good because of it. It’s great to hear the progression of her craft, and the rewarding thing is that Faithfull refused to play it safe and just replicate a classic in Come My Way; rather, she dug deeper for a more rounded study of folk. Again Marianne rose to the challenge and used more of her considerable range to greatly enhance the emotive lyrics on most of the tracks. Two classic albums and the world was her oyster, but things wouldn’t be so bright for much longer, and her work (or lack of it) was about to reflect that.