Although there is the potential today for historically reconstructing The Incredible String Band as a folksy psychedelic sideshow, the core group of Mike Heron and Robin Williamson were among the most imaginative and deeply schooled of the musicians emerging out of Britain’s folk revival in the late 1960s. Succored by Joe Boyd and Elektra records, the band was in sympathetic company, and mined both sides of the Atlantic, and eastern drones, to create music and lyrics at turns profound and humorous, instantly identifiable, and hugely influential on far more successful bands who rode in their wake (Led Zeppelin particularly saw the writing that ISB flung like spatter art on the wall). They themselves didn’t emerge out of a vacuum, however; connecting the dots from someone like John Jacob Niles, the Incredible String Band can be viewed on a continuum with John Fahey, Bob Dylan, and Martin Carthy, and were surrounded by the time of their third album, 1968’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, by like-minded souls in Fairport Convention and Pentangle. “Waltz of the New Moon” is one of the many shifting centerpieces of that record, which is a paste-up of folk melody and imagery dissolving into each other, bounding across the frontiers separating east and west. The musicianship is breathtaking, and while the songs do hang in the air like a cannabis haze, I wonder if this association is because the Incredible String Band in their genius created such a sound to begin with.
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