Even the most rabid music fans may find themselves a bit flummoxed by the genre of Psychedelic (or Acid) Folk. It never caught on in a big way, although heavyweights like Robert Plant have been extolling the virtues of such artists as the Incredible String Band for decades now. Psychedelic Folk was definitely more of a British phenomenon than an American one, at least in the beginning. So it seems appropriate that the English Jawbone Books have published the definitive book about the music: Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk by Jeanette Leech.
The book is not exactly brand new, it was actually published in 2010, but I found it so intriguing that I wanted to spread the word anyway. Please accept my apologies for not getting to it earlier. Although the author does describe the revival of the music by artists including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, I think the biggest draw is historical. As far as I know, nobody has really told the story of the origins of this music before, and Leech's work here is exemplary.
As I understand it, the terms "Acid Folk," and "Psychedelic Folk" are interchangeable, and both point to the Flower Power era in which the music began. For the most part, the musicians could be called hippies, and proudly so I might add. Many of the groups lived communally, and lived "off the grid." As Leech describes it, there was a very strong desire to live almost as traveling minstrels, which is quite a different thing from the world of pop stardom, fame, and fortune.
The lifestyle of self-sufficiency seems to be a very important part of the musical scene, as is a hefty dose of romanticism. Who can deny the allure of a life spent traveling from town to town by horse-drawn carriage, and literally singing for your supper? One of the things I enjoyed about this book so much was how the author connects the dots between a fairly small group of like-minded musicians, who found each other and grew the scene in a very organic way.
Donovan may have gotten his fair share of record company hype, but he was really just the tip of the iceberg. With her seemingly inexhaustible knowledge, Leech introduces us to a wide range of obscure artists (obscure to me at least), and has opened my eyes to a world that I previously knew very little about.
Over the course of this 366-page book, the seasons do change. We are taken through the innocent beginnings, a brief period of record company interest, followed by a long drought. True to form, the revival of the music was quite organic as well. Nobody saw groups such as The Eighteenth Day of May or The Owl Service as being avatars of a new age. But what I found even more intriguing were Leech's discussions of the bands Four Tet, Adem, and Tung - who pioneered "Folktronica" in the early '00s.
Jawbone are just about at the top of my list of music book publishers, as they have published the stories of a wide variety of artists, and the books themselves have a beautiful look to them. They probably would have gone for one about this music anyway, but I think the revival of the form has helped. To that end, Greg Weeks of the band Espers wrote the Forward, and he has some intriguing thoughts.
Music geeks like myself are always on the lookout for new sounds, and the world of psychedelic folk is an area I knew very little about before reading this book. With publishers like Jawbone offering us such interesting (and excellently documented) books as Seasons They Change, we all benefit.
This is an extremely enjoyable read, recommended both for longtime fans, and the curious. Don't let the fact that it is a couple of years old bother you. Like the gorgeous trees on the cover, Seasons They Change is an evergreen.