The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter

Incredible String Band, The

album cover

Fanciful Stories Designed to Enchant . . .

Conceived by Incredible String Band songwriters Mike Heron and Robin Williamson as a series of stories designed to amuse (and, in a roundabout way, educate) an adolescent girl growing up in simpler times, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter is a psychedelic trip through the tilt-a-whirl of hippie culture. The third album from the inventive British folk-rock band bubbles with odd allegories and the exotic sounds of dulcimer, harpsichord, and oud. In this unpredictable sonic realm, children are confronted with witches and Minotaurs and cosmic fairy tales told in couplets like "Earth, water, fire and air, met together in a garden fair."

But tucked into wordy invocations of mythology ("The Minotaur's Song") and microbiology ("A Very Cellular Song") are redeeming prog-rock instrumental forays; some of these are interrupted by wriggling vocals from Williamson, who'd recently returned from Morocco and was obviously under the influence of that country's hypnotic singers. Like many music makers of this era, the band has a short attention span, abandoning one rhythm to shift, unexpectedly, into another; there are little tunes inside of bigger tunes, and at times the band goes soldiering off, never to return to the original theme.

ISB deserves credit for loosening British folk from its roots; this album aligns with similarly spirited efforts by Pentangle and Fairport Convention that helped expand folk in more progressive, less literal directions. But its influence goes beyond that. The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter encouraged scores of rockers (notably Led Zeppelin) to take wild leaps into the mystic unknown, where even jaded types could reconnect with their inner druid.

Genre: Folk
Released: 1968, Elektra
Key Tracks: "Koeeoaddi There," "A Very Cellular Song."
Catalog Choice: Changing Horses.
Next Stop: Mike Heron: Smiling Men with Bad Reputations
After That: Steeleye Span: Below the Salt.
Book Pages: 380–381

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