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Wednesday, December 9, 2009


320 KBPS

This is the great Steeleye Span's fourth studio album and in addition to furthering their lovely communion of traditional British folk and blustery hard blues, it was the first release without founder/bassist Ashley Hutchings. Filling the gap left by he and Martin Carthy was the bass of Rick Kemp and guitar of Bob Johnson. The centerpiece of course are vocals led by the legendary Maddy Prior, Tim Hart (who also handles dulcimer and guitar) and Peter Knight's fiddle, mandolin, banjo and piano. The album's title refers to the placement of salt on a medieval table reflecting the status of those gathered.
Persistently seen as 'folk' or even 'pop', these traditionalists knew where of they spoke and brought a visceral legitimacy to their unorthodox fusions of the ancient with the modern. More intriguing than mother band Fairport Convention and with an authenticity Jethro Tull could nary match, the gifted ensemble bridged the gap between the forward-looking electric folk movement and the yearnings of the Old World. An easy jig from Knight and Hart is bumped-up by Johnson's startling low-end fuzz guitar for 'Spotted Cow', and a cappella 'Rosebud in June' is opened by Prior's pure pipes joined by the group's voices. More great Irish dancing quietly enhanced by a rock guitar on 'Jigs:The Bride's Favorite' but the electric instruments keep their place and play only a part here, and for that we are grateful. Bleak and brooding 'Sheep Crook and Black Dog' is uplifted by the fun of 'Royal Forester', a traditional lyric dating to the 13th Century and sings a chanty of a woman scorned. Child Ballad 'King Henry' turns gradually into a heavy folk bit with thick fiddles and a screaming guitar solo from Hart, cathedral voices by candlelight in 'Gaudete', John Barleycorn sacrifices himself in a celebration of all things brewed, and hauntingly beautiful 'Saucy Sailor'.
A brilliant outfit misunderstood and under-appreciated, Steeleye Span were masters (and mistress) of their realm and gave us progressive folk-rock at a time of imitators and mimics, and should hold at least a tiny place in a progsters collection. Let them surprise you.

1. Spotted Cow
2. Rose Bud In June
3. Jigs: The Bride's Favorite, Tansey's Fancy
4. Sheep-Crook And Black Dog
5. Royal Forester
6. King Henry
7. Gaudette
8. John Barleycorn
9. Saucy Sailor

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