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Stone Angel - East Of The Sun CD (album) cover

EAST OF THE SUN

Stone Angel

 

Prog Folk

3.00 | 2 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars This album makes apparent the fact Stone Angel were unfortunate victims of timing back when they were originally active in the mid-seventies. The music here would have been hugely popular in the acid folk and hippie communities just a few years before the band morphed out of Midwinter, but sadly 1974 was just a bit too late to be launching a full- fledged folk rock band with heavy Celtic leanings and an overall renaissance vibe. Instead, it seems the turn of the century provided a better opportunity, thanks mostly to technology advancements that have made it possible for so many prog-friendly record labels to rediscover and reissue forgotten music such as Stone Angel.

This is the first of three new studio albums the band has released since Kissing Spell dredged up their ancient 1975 self-titled album and the live recording ‘The Holy Rood of Bromholm’ and re-released them on CD. The lineup is mostly different this time around, although stalwarts Joan and Ken Saul remain from the original band. The two of them toiled through the nineties as the Village Band as well, after a couple of unsuccessful restarts of Stone Angel in the eighties and nineties.

But the new members are all fellow-travelers so nothing is lost in terms of the band’s mood, and the advantages of modern studio techniques and the wisdom and experience of age on the part of the players themselves have resulted in an offering that is frankly at least as good and probably better than the group’s stellar 1975 debut. To be sure, this is much more mellow and sometimes borderline traditional folk music; but the musicianship is top- notch all around, and there’s just enough electric guitar and the occasional drum (granted, mostly bongos or programmed) to remind the listener that this is the 21st century.

And there is the occasional energetic highlight as well. “Rise Up John” for instance blends Celtic fiddle and organ sounds with some Earl Grey-caffeinated guitar licks and uplifting harmonized vocals. “The Sick Tune”, based on an unknown 16th century traditional dance according to the liner notes, is quite traditional sounding but benefits greatly from a couple of recorders played (I believe) by Ken and Joan Saul. Here the sequenced drumbeat sounds quite authentic and its acoustic hollowness combine with what is either a harpsichord or the digital equivalent and more hopping guitar for an overall very engaging prog-folk dance tune.

Elsewhere there is a remake of “Black Sailed Traders”, a tune that appeared on the band’s 1975 debut album. Here again the group seems to have improved, shaving a half-minute or so off the song (mostly by speeding up the tempo a bit) and by emphasizing the strings and woodwinds a bit more. I have to admit I still prefer the more rustic original version though.

Joan Saul has always had the kind of folk voice that seems like it was created to do nothing but chant about tree nymphs and dastardly deeds committed in the darkness of peat bogs and lost souls of medieval days. And she seems to warm to that task quite easily, especially on “The Cuckoo”, “The Fowler” and the airy “These Trees They Grow So High”. For some reason Ken Saul takes front stage on vocals throughout much of the album though, something that gives it more balance but frankly leaves me wondering why the group wouldn’t utilize the great vocals asset they have in Joan Saul much more frequently.

The best tunes though are those where the entire band is engaged in not only playing, but also singing, usually in sweet harmony. The album both opens (“Outlanders”) and closes (“To You with Love”) with such numbers, with “All Frolicking I Will Give Over” making for a trio.

The band would go on to pull all their experience and sensibilities together to release what will likely come to be considering their magnum opus with the 2007 recording ‘Circle of Leaves’. But this one is quite good as well, and shows Ken and Joan Saul had not lost a step in the quarter-century between their early Stone Angel days and this latest iteration. Three stars and well recommended.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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