Rocking the Child Ballads and More
I saw Steeleye Span once in their starter years, at The Gaumont Theatre in Ipswich, early 70s, where I saw many brilliant emerging bands, and it was as I recall an excellent gig, their folkrock very much an exemplary encapsulation of the time when Pentangle had set the bar so high yet SS established their own excellence.
I haven’t followed their career, especially of late when they have, apparently, been most active and productive, but this November release is absolutely stonking: folk progrock played with such energy and creativity. Maddie Prior is still providing the most distinctive, powerful vocal, and the addition of Jessica May Stuart adds another fine vocal but more importantly her violin which delivers throughout some of the sweetest layers of sound as well as stunning solos as in The Gardener, to name just one. The title track is a brilliant instrumental ensemble performance, seeped in obvious folk tropes, but more crucially Rock – the drumming just a thumping roll of heaviness.
There is glorious, pretty folk like second All Things Are Quite Silent, its lyrics of sorrow and woe the template for this plaintive folk core, both melodically and poetically, Stuart’s violin sweeping through with empathetic ache; third Johnnie Armstrong with its milk-white steed and other references [the storytelling stereotypes so welcoming, most songs taken from the work of 19th century American scholar Francis James Child and his collection of English and Scottish Ballads] presenting the band in rousing voice and lovely harmonising; seventh Cromwell’s Skull combining pretty harmonies, pretty violin and a gorgeous guitar solo, and a ten minute closer that presents in tandem The Lofty Tall Ships and Shallow Brown, showcasing the two obvious styles of firstly rock and then folk, the latter with Prior in exquisite voice as well as soothing atmospheric instrumentals of bass, guitar and violin.