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Mellow Candle - Swaddling Songs CD (album) cover

SWADDLING SONGS

Mellow Candle

 

Prog Folk

3.86 | 76 ratings

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Psychedelic Paul
4 stars MELLOW CANDLE were an Irish Prog-Folk quintet whose flickering flame burned briefly but brightly in 1972 with the release of their one and only studio album, "Swaddling Songs", which has since become a treasured classic amongst Prog-Folk connoisseurs. The band were led by two sweet-voiced Irish songstresses, Clodagh Simonds (who also played piano, harpsichord and mellotron on the album) and Alison Williams, with a guitarist, bass player and drummer completing the traditional five-piece line-up. The band members were surprisingly young, with Clodagh Simonds being just 15 years old and still at school at the time when the band first got together in 1968 to record their first single "Feelin' High", a song later added as a bonus track to the CD re-issue of "Swaddling Songs". For collectors, a Mellow Candle compilation album "The Virgin Prophet" was released in 1996, containing previously unreleased material and alternative early versions of songs from the classic "Swaddling Songs" album.

It's Bach to the Future for some classically-inspired Folk with our first angelic song, "Heaven Heath". There are definite shades of Fairport Convention's classic "Fotheringay" to be heard here. Fotheringport Confusion, maybe. The gorgeous female harmonies and the tinkling sound of the harpsichord give the music the kind of playful pastoral aura that Mr J.S. Bach might have aired on his G-string. The gentle bucolic melody conjures up images of a sun-kissed golden meadow where sheep may safely graze. If Heaven was a place on Earth, then "Heaven Heath" would make the perfect musical accompaniment in the Garden of Eden. Red sky at night, shepherd's delight, and for *shear* musical delight, comes "Sheep Season", a charming and romantic mellow melody that's as reassuringly comforting as being swaddled in a warm woolly blanket in front of a roaring log fire. This outstanding sheep-shearing song also features a simply sublime guitar solo in the style of Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the celestial sound of a mellotron too. There's more rapturous sweet nectar on the way with "Silver Song", a bright and shining piano ballad bathed in warm golden strings, that's so beautifully uplifting, it brings to mind the awe-inspiring music of Renaissance with the soaring siren-song voice of Annie Haslam. The swirling and echoey twin harmonies of Clodagh Simonds and Alison Williams are like manna from Prog-Folk heaven here. The gorgeous spectrum of music contained within this treasured album is so far proving to be as pleasing to the ears as the Technicolour riot of the Chelsea Flower Show is pleasing to the eyes, only without the huge crowds and the hayfever and the sight of someone stumbling facedown drunk into the flowerbeds.

It's Every Witch Way But Loose now: the witches are on the loose as the album takes a quirky and slightly sinister turn with some spooky Halloween antics in "The Poet and the Witch". The music is an off-kilter Witches Brew of constantly yo-yoing vocals, ranging from very high to very low, in a creepy Comus "First Utterance" kind of way. This offbeat song is unlikely to give you nightmares though as Clodagh and Alison are clearly angelic white witches blessed with heavenly voices, and the music is no more scary than a box of Black Magic chocolates. Flying into view now in magnificent plumage are the "Messenger Birds", a gently rippling piano and guitar piece featuring soaring ethereal vocals which ascend up into the heavens in the best traditions of classic Renaissance. This sparkling Emerald Isle jewel is the kind of heaven-sent music that blissful sweet dreams are made of. It's as joyously uplifting as a jubilant 2020 street party to celebrate the end of the coronavirus lockdown, with hugs and kisses all 'round, but only with *really* close neighbours. We're coming back down to earth now with some very conventional folky fare in the shape of "Dan the Wing", which draws obvious comparisons with Fairport Convention's "Tam Lin". This Folk song sounds so traditionally English, it brings to mind gaily-dressed (and occasionally gay) Morris Men - adorned with colourful bell pads and tassels - merrily gallivanting around the Maypole in the pub car park, whilst in the meantime, any self-respecting Englishmen have already beaten a hasty retreat inside the pub to escape them.

"Reverend Sisters" is another soothing piano ballad in the classic Renaissance mould, sprinkled with some magical Mellow Candle fairy dust. The gentle tinkling of the ivories combined with the lilting honey-toned voices of Clodagh and Alison, reminds one of "The Sisters" from the Renaissance "Novella" album. This haunting refrain washes over the listener like a gently rippling stream with heavenly harmonies to die for. It's a typical Irish Catholic tale of strict paragons-of-virtue nuns trying to steer their schoolgirls away from adopting any naughty black habits. We're breaking the spell now with "Break Your Token", which is a return to more traditional folky fare, with those eccentric off-kilter vocals again giving the music a certain edginess, and "Buy or Beware" continues in the same vein, with lyrics that appear to be an attack on rampant consumerism, long before anti-capitalist demonstrations became en-vogue for extreme left-wingers everywhere, although one feels the protests are not so much aimed at consumerism generally, but more likely aimed at the "Greed is Good" ethos of bank- busting rogue traders like Nick Leeson in their loud stripy suits, or Gordon Gecko Wall Street types in their bright red braces and swanky offices. Anyway, back to the music, and this classic Prog-Folk album is well-worth ten pounds, ten dollars or ten euros of anyone's money, whatever your political views.

From the economic to the esoteric now with "Vile Excesses", an enigmatic fairytale centred around shadows of unicorns and crowns of thorns, although judging from the song title, there's a cryptic environmental message contained within the lyrics somewhere. Again, this charming song is a wonderful spellbinding cross between Renaissance and Fairport Convention with a light sprinkling of Pentangle and Trees thrown in too. The penultimate song "Lonely Man" represents a departure from Folk into moody bluesier territory, although the twin harmonies of the two female leads sound just as enchanting as ever on this melancholic refrain. Finally, "Boulders on My Grave" takes off on a Pentangly Light Flight of fancy in a lively uptempo rocker that's very reminiscent of the vocalese style of Annie Haslam. Fittingly, "Boulders on My Grave" turns out to be the rockiest rolling stone on the entire album and it's a real album highlight. This is where the band really get to light things up for a fiery finish by burning the (Mellow) Candle at both ends, so to speak.

This precious one-off album is a true lost and found gem in the vast pantheon of Folk-Rock. Mellow Candle have graced the Prog-Folk stage with this rather special album of warm and comforting "Swaddling Songs". This delightful collection of whimsical evergreen melodies and sugar-sweet harmonies from a bygone age is a rare and revered album to treasure for all time. It's a timeless album with all of the enduring appeal of a United Nations world heritage site, provided the Taliban doesn't come along and blow it up. You're as unlikely to find this rare album at a bargain-price charity shop or thrift store as finding a mad mullah presiding over a bar mitzvah.

Psychedelic Paul | 4/5 |

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