Fairport Convention has been broken down and reassembled so many times since the band’s inception in the late ’60s that even its name—once synonymous with revolutionizing British folk by folding cool, California jams into rote strum-and-coo formula—has become little more than a punchline. In some ways, Fairport Convention’s descent into schmaltz was inevitable: given the early departures of Richard Thompson (bailed in 1971), Judy Dyble (replaced in 1968) Ashley Hutchings (fled in 1969), Ian Matthews (also out by ’69), and Martin Lamble (killed in a van accident in 1970), the contemporary incarnation of Fairport Convention is hardly the same band that caused a fuss in 1967. Unfortunately, the updated version of its sound (anchored by guitarist/vocalist Simon Nicol, the only remaining founder) is too nostalgic to win Fairport Convention many new followers.
Over the Next Hill is appropriately preoccupied with the plodding passage of time. Songwriter Chris Leslie even mines history books for lyric fodder—“Over the Falls” is loosely based on an 1859 tightrope walk across Niagara Falls, “The Fossil Hunter” follows a fatherless girl in 1811, and “I’m Already There” recounts an Arctic voyage circa 1819. Leslie’s lyrics are clever and astute, but Over the Next Hill insists on employing the same standard Fairport noisemakers, plucked as usual (see mandolin, fiddle, a handful of guitars, bass, drums and layered vocals, forever cawed in perfect Brit clips). Ultimately, a fixation with yesteryear sinks Over the Next Hill, and Fairport Convention is left to falter clumsily into the future, eyes averted, guitars high.