"Nebulous Nearnesses"



"Sands of Time"

Unique Gravity

It goes without saying that any edition of the Incredible String Band that doesn't include co-founder Robin Williamson in its ranks leaves a lot to be desired. But "Nebulous Nearnesses" nonetheless documents a welcome reunion -- a cozy and acoustic celebration of the British group's sprouting growth in the late '60s.

The ISB reunited a few years ago after a 25-year sabbatical, but Williamson has since moved on to other projects, leaving band stalwarts Mike Heron and Clive Palmer, plus a few talented friends, to carry on. They go about it the old-fashioned, pre-electric ISB way on "Nebulous Nearnesses," playing an odd and wonderfully colorful assortment of instruments -- everything from guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle to Lawson Dando's Indian harmonium and thumb piano and Steini Gudmundsson's tabla, tambourine and shakers. Williamson isn't entirely absent from the picture: He's represented by some tunes, including "The Water Song," that zen paean to nature's wonders ("O, wizard of changes, teach me the lesson of flowing"). But the real pleasures here flow from Heron's pen, with "The Hedgehog's Song," "Chinese White" and "A Very Cellular Song" all ranking high.

Recorded for a small audience of friends in a chummy atmosphere, "Nebulous Nearnesses" is devoted to these and other period pieces -- reminders of the patchouli-scented '60s, back when ISB embraced folk revival trends, blossoming psychedelia and the sound of world beat to come. Yet it doesn't take long for Heron, Palmer and company to prove that much of this music remains as charming, whimsical and mystical as ever.

Palmer can also be heard on his new solo CD, "Sands of Time" -- a rough-hewn collection of rueful musings ("Paris"), Tin Pan Alley-like ditties ("You Were Meant for Me"), and banjo-strummed laments ("Big City Blues"). Oh, and for a capper, he includes a banjo-only interpretation of "Embraceable You." Much demand for this sort of thing? Hardly, but Palmer's droll delivery, peculiar repertoire and sometimes spooky plucking may well win you over just the same.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Monday at the Birchmere. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Incredible String Band, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8126; to hear Clive Palmer, press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)