"One of the many sad secrets of the popular music business is the way this little gem languished in obscurity. It should have been heard by millions, but disappeared at the height of psychedelia. Two years later, the Band found an audience with haunting tales of bygone rustic North American life with their seminal, self-titled second album. Widespread acclaim eluded the earlier outing by this unheralded Canadian trio. The songs, most written independently by Daisy DeBolt or Allan Fraser, are poetic. DeBolt's slowly unfolding, album-opening "All This Paradise" is a marvel, introducing listeners right away to her commanding voice and the sinuous fiddle of Ian Guenther. The album was out of print for years, scratchy vinyl platters still treasured by a small but fervent number of fans."
- Mark Allan, All Music Guide source page
"My favorite unknown album came out in 1971. It was the debut album from the Canadian folk duo Fraser and DeBolt with fiddler Ian Guenther on Columbia records. This trio included Alan Fraser and Daisy DeBolt who wrote independently but sang and played in complete transcendent union. I still marvel at how they communicate on this record, which was obviously recorded live.
"Their performance moves from absolute purity and as quiet as air to screeching dissonance sometimes in the same song. The writing is about love in its most intimate terms and also with great humor."
- WXPN DJ David Dye source page
Do an internet search on this album, it's uncanny: you'll find absolutely nothing but raves. Most of the people who recommend it lament the fact that their vinyl copies are worn out from so many listens and that it has yet to be re-released on CD. It's hard to find another record that is so unanimously treasured by the rare people who have heard it, and has had such a huge influence on so many while being heard by so few. In their native Canada, Allan Fraser and Daisy Debolt are revered in the folk world by those lucky enough to have seen them perform. They influenced other musicians mostly from their live performances, not their recordings, and if it's true that they were even better live than on this LP, I'll gladly trade the entire "F" section of my collection for a video.
The reason for all of this passion is the same reason the record sold squat: it's full of gorgeous ragged edges and inspired imperfections. It's human and heartfelt with no pretense or gloss. We're not talking idiot savant (I won't name examples here, as I don't want to offend anyone); it's as insulting to Fraser & Debolt to lump them with "real people" or "incredibly strange" music as it would be to Bobb Trimble. Every out of out-of-tune violin lick (courtesy of Ian Guenther, who gets credit in the album title), every backing vocal that starts too early or comes in too late, and every dissonant guitar chord is intentional (or at least a brilliant performance accident retained after much thought.) This may be raw; it may be loose, and it sure is fun, but this album is arranged with as much foresight as any 70s prog record. On all but one song (which adds sax and piano) the musical backing is merely two acoustic guitars and violin, often arranged with a punk-like simplicity. Yet every song sounds full and rich, each is different from the others, and the unique approach to dual vocals fills the songs with left turns, sublime beauty, and moments that will make the most jaded listener smile. It's been called "art-folk," which is as good a description as any. It's also rock and roll without electricity or drums, and acid folk without any of the daze or confusion.
Unimaginative rock critics compare the vocals to Jefferson Airplane, whom I suppose are in the same universe, assuming you catch the Airplane during a moment of clarity. Both bands monkey with the concept that the lead and harmony singers should sing at the exact same time (as did the Velvet Underground, on that very year's LOADED), but Fraser & Debolt do it better, and with more clear intent. There are some shocking high notes hit here (as many by him as by her), but not one cringeworthy moment. If you want "perfect" harmonies, I direct you to the Beach Boys, or the Belmonts, or Capability Brown. If you prefer a real jolt of adrenaline, I recommend this.
Without giving away too many of the record's surprises, some of the moments that give me goose pimples: The opening "All This Heaven" (what a perfect title to begin this album!) takes so long to fade in you'll think you forgot to turn on the volume, then it ends so quickly that you'll wonder if it's a dream. It's immediately followed by the choppy, dissonant chord progression and deadpan vocals of "Gypsy Solitaire." This is the one that sounds like punk rock, at least until the insane yodeling on the chorus. There are lovely ballads with no hint of weirdness (try to resist "Them Dance Hall Girls"), a gorgeous muted-vocal dirge called "Stoney Day," mysterious lyrics like "Constance/what a name/you should have been Felicity" and "the mushrooms keep growing in every new bootprint," a songlet purposely misspelled "Armstrong Tourest Rest Home" where moaning voices duel a squeaky violin, and a song called "Pure Spring Water," which is just as fresh and soothing as its subject. Hell, they even do justice to a Beatles song (see the Terry Manning review for reasons not to attempt this), closing the album with an impassioned version of "Don't Let Me Down." It's one of the Fab Four's most hard-rocking songs, but this version is more powerful that you ever knew the song could be. Fraser & Debolt add stops and starts that will make your heart skip a beat.
The album is structured so that side two's songs are a little longer and a little less peculiar, but no less compelling, than the short quirky songs on side one. It's as if they're saying "not only can we sing far out, we can sing pretty." Even so, for every "David's Tune" or "Stoney Day," which finish as quasi-singalongs (and it doesn't get any catchier than Daisy's vocal freakout at the end of "David's Tune"), there's a "Pure Spring Water," which drifts into unexpected dissonance. This album always keeps the listener guessing. Most unlikely of all, there's not one moment here where it will cross your mind that it would sound better if the other one was singing, or if the backup vocalist would shut up. Try to name any other dual-vocal album you can say that about! When you listen to as many different records as I do, it's easy to forget what it's like to hear one in which every song is a true work of art, where the entire approach reminds me why I listen to so much music in the first place. Discover this and it'll all come back to you. By the way, another Canadian folk masterpiece of the era, THE PERTH COUNTY CONSPIRACY DOES NOT EXIST, is also on Columbia. The label hired somebody north of the border who knew what they were doing!
Postscript: one year later they finally got around to a second album. Unsurprisingly it is much more produced, with not only bass and drums, but saxophones and steel guitars. It's natural for them to "progress" in this way, but the fullness of the sound feels like a coverup for the disappearance of songwriting magic and decline in vocal creativity. As if they knew the album was a disappointment, they took the only song that lived up to the quality of the first album and subtitled it "Pure Spring Water #2," a brief reminder of the glory of their masterpiece.
- review by Aaron Milenski source page