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Spirogyra - St. Radigunds CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.26 | 184 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I probably don't even need to say this, but if you're already a fan of Comus and/or Jan Dukes de Grey, you should get "St. Radigunds" as soon as possible. However, that's not quite fair; similarities may abound, but Spirogyra is immediately unique. There is an earthy, urban edge that reminds me more of The Pogues than anything else - a claustrophobic timeless British Empire folk sound, in which you can almost hear the creaking of wooden ships and smell the sharp tang of musket smoke (and, uh, feces in the gutters and scabrous whores in the alley).

This emerges from the basic folk template of acoustic guitars and one or two vocals, augmented in moderation by various other instruments, most notably the violin and bass guitar. Many of the arrangements consist of precise unison lines (check out the interplay between the bass and violin during "Time Will Tell") and energetic strumming. With or without percussion, this ensemble rocks pretty hard at times - not quite the wild abandon of Comus, but with a ferocity somewhere between a tavern brawl and a protest riot.

Certainly, Cockerham's vocals are as pleasantly grating as Wooton's or Derek Noy's (but not quite as grating as Shane MacGowans, of course!). They take you by surprise at first, and you may not be sure whether to laugh or be annoyed...but if you can make it past that disagreeable first impression, you may come to appreciate the striking emotive power of his singing, especially when he's joined by the lovely harmony of Barbara Gaskin's equally powerful (and admittedly more immediately pleasant) tones.

Her additions are like a surge from a string section: instantly upping the emotional and dramatic ante, so to speak. Her vocals help turn "Magical Mary" from acid to bittersweet (assisted by one of the few times that rock drums make an appearance on the album), and she takes "At Home in the World" from a simple ballad to something almost anthemic. Alone, her voice is plain and poignant, a classic sweet but direct country-Celtic tone with the character and immediacy that I'd always missed in Annie Haslam (hmm, if Renaissance is the castle, is Spirogyra the village square?).

In fact, this band does things for me that many comparable (and relatively bigger) bands never quite accomplished. For example, Fairport Convention often seemed a little too well-mannered to me, perhaps a little over-produced and tame, and Spirogyra provides the missing element. Same with The Incredible String Band...I'd always appreciated the music, but too often felt indifferent to it on a more emotional level. Even Comus, whom I also adore, often lacks the essential human quality - Spyrogyra has the kind of raw human quality heard in the best of folk, Celtic, and other authentic traditional styles.

Will everyone love it? Probably not, and because of that I should reserve one star for the final rating. However, I'm letting my objectivity slip for a moment to acknowledge how much this album impressed me. Fair enough?

James Lee | 5/5 |


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