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Stone Angel - Lonely Waters CD (album) cover


Stone Angel


Prog Folk

3.00 | 2 ratings

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3 stars This is the last Stone Angel CD I needed to round out my collection, and after a fair amount of looking I finally found a copy that fit (though stretched) my budget. My reaction is mixed. This album is far closer to conventional folk than it is to progressive music. Eight of the fourteen tracks consist of arrangements of traditional folk standards, with two others coming from literary sources of the middle ages. Ken Saul penned the remaining four songs, although these are a bit difficult to distinguish from the conventional folk tunes.

The CD opens with a Renaissance-tinged number titled “The Outlandish Knight”, which despite the name is more about the knight’s fair maiden than himself. A mildly interesting tune, but with little to distinguish it beyond Joan Saul’s quite appealing vocals, which seem to have been made for singing folk music.

“Pretty Nancy of Yarmouth” plays on a pretty traditional folk theme; sailor sets off to sea leaving his pretty young lass at home pining away for him (or maybe not). And in another nod to that seafaring town, “The Yarmouth Hornpipe” follows. Crumhorn and oboe give this song its shape, along with some pretty decent and mildly acid electric guitar from Andrew Smith and some sort of electric keyboard courtesy Dave Felmingham, who was not an original band member back in the seventies but has appeared on all three of the group’s records since they reformed in the 21st century. “1901” appears later on the album and is also a seafaring ditty, this one about a shipwreck disaster based on true Yarmouth-area event that occurred in (not surprisingly) 1901.

And speaking of the original band, that entire lineup is back here for the first and (sadly) last time since their pseudo-live 1976 release ‘The Holy Rood of Bromholm’. For reasons not explained in the liner notes, Paul Corrick (electric guitar) and Dave Lambert (violin) appear as “guest musicians” and only on one song, “P.A. Olsen's Halling”. Lambert’s tracks were apparently mailed in from South Australia which might explain his limited participation (the rest of the recording was made in Norfolk, England). I say this is the last time that lineup will be together because oboist/Cor anglais player Richard Danby passed away just as the album recording was wrapping up.

Some of the other songs here hint at the direction the band would take on their next release, namely in more of a chamber or even medieval direction. The title track in particular, which is adapted from an orchestral rhapsody dating at least to the early twentieth century and probably earlier. “Veni Coronaberis” is in a similar vein although with more prominence given to Joan Saul’s vocals (augmented by new band member Jane Denny). The latter song is based on a 15th century poetic manuscript in praise of ivy (life was certainly slower and simpler long ago).

The band loosens up a bit toward the end of the record, with three of the final five tracks being original material infused with more of the characteristic recorders/flutes, electric guitar with acoustic strumming, and interplay of Ken and Joan Saul’s vocals. This is closer to the mellow acid folk the band made back in the seventies, and frankly much more appealing to me than the staid and sometimes bookish traditional numbers. Speaking of which, the band apparently couldn’t resist one more hyper-intellectual offering in “Now Welcome Summer” based on Chaucer’s 1368 work ‘The Parlement of Fowles’.

The best three songs on the album come at the end. “St. Benet’s” is an original number that (while quite laconic) brings out the best of the band in Danby’s oboe, Joan Saul’s vocals and recorders, Ken Saul’s mellow dulcimer, and Dave Felmingham’s layered keyboard programming.

“P.A. Olsen's Halling” reunites the entire 1974 lineup of the band and is the closest thing they’ve done to their original music back in the seventies. Tasty and slightly fuzzed guitar, warbling violin and a laid-back rhythm section make this an instrumental treat.

And finally the album closes on “What Will Become of England”, which despite its title is an upbeat number. An original composition, Ken Saul pays tribute to a couple of his favorite 19th century British folk singers and at the same time manages to give a solidarity shout- out to farm laborers. This is authentic folk and quite well-arranged and executed with multiple vocalists and lovely cello from guest Sian Sutton.

This isn’t my favorite Stone Angel record, and considering the trouble and expense I had to go through to get it I’m not sure it was completely worth buying. But in the end I have it and it completes my collection. The last handful of songs really make the album work, and frankly I wish the band had started with “Meeting Hill” and build an album similar to that song forward and left the seafaring ditties to Faraway Folk or someone else. But I’ll say this is a comfortable three star album, and recommend it to people who like their folk music mature, traditional and very well executed.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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