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Sally Oldfield - Water Bearer CD (album) cover


Sally Oldfield


Crossover Prog

3.88 | 32 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
5 stars I remember where I was when I first heard this unfairly overlooked album, and when it was. Suffice to say it was 1984 and, amidst the excitement of such a significant discovery crept in feelings of disillusionment with a music scene that would allow such a project to go unnoticed, at least in North America. I felt cheated that, although I clearly knew of Sally through her sibling association and her work with STEVE HACKETT, I had been deprived of this classic for the first 6 years of its existence.

For fans of the pastoral, woodsy aspects of MIKE OLDFIELD's discography, as surely all his followers must be (!), SALLY OLDFIELD's debut is an easy sell. Sure, she actually pens spiritual lyrics and her voice is ubiquitous, but the Oldfield spirit conveyed succinctly in the main theme of "Hergest Ridge" and pervading whole cycles of "Ommadawn", on which she sang, is as intertwined with his elder sister's DNA as with his. Of course, he returns the favour by picking up the mandolin here, and other guests like Herbie Flowers and Frank Ricotti do more than add progressive credentials, but that they do too.

Even though Sally's pop sensibilities are barely apparent on this British Isles progressive folk rock album, it did yield her only hit, the UK #19 anthem "Mirrors". Unfortunately, as with the RENAISSANCE chart smash "Northern Lights" of the same year, the singles' success did not endow the artist with any staying power, so out of fashion was her style. Still, we are here to analyze this album virtually devoid of missteps or the sort of out of character forays that could make the difference between a 4 and 5 star disk.

Side 1 is a no brainer, with the bubbly chanting of "Water Bearer" exploiting the power of repetitive suggestion, giving way seamlessly to the monumental medley of the Quendi, a suite that suddenly springs to life on the wings of a Dave Lawson synth figure and slowly and resignedly consumes itself a dozen odd minutes later. If a more musically coherent Tolkien tribute exists I surely have not heard it. I feel myself in an enchanted forest attending stealthily to the sounds of the natives lest they discover my presence and dissolve self consciously into silence.

Side 2 is perhaps somewhat less flashy but also more of a personal statement along the lines of "Mirrors". It explores a variety of spirituality, mostly earth centered as in "Night of the Hunter's Moon" and the "Tubular Bells" like "Weaver", but also Islam in the jangly "Child of Allah". "Fire and Honey" holds the spirit of Gaia again, enhanced by piano that is reminiscent of John Hawken's work with ILLUSION. Everywhere is Oldfield's sultry, expressive voice that should rightly have taken its place along with KATE BUSH and other contemporaries, but one should be content that she helped shaped many of the more Celtic flavoured female artists now known as new age, from NIGHTNOISE to LOREENA MCKENNITT, to name a few of the more respectable proponents.

For the sister of a mega star like Mike Oldfield, the task of distinguishing herself must have been daunting for Sally, but she possessed a gift of authentic self expression at least the equal of his own. As a result, "Water Bearer" is one of the more uniquely rooted releases of the 1970s, and one of the most refreshing examples of nature oriented progressive music of any era. So drink up.

kenethlevine | 5/5 |


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