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Steeleye Span - Now We Are Six CD (album) cover


Steeleye Span

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Firm power chords and sweeping acoustic strums break open Steeleye Span's sixth offering, and 'Thomas the Rhymer' wears an ideal balance of classic rock simplicity, seafaring folk, and pop appeal. 'Now We Are Six' was not, as some insist, Steeleye's most 'prog' album to the extent that they had already shown greater progressions on previous LPs [Please to See the King, Below the Salt]. What it was, however, was their furthest crossover into the waters of hard rock and showed unlikely balls in the most unexpected places. Sure Ian Anderson's help as production consultant couldn't have hurt, but this ever-evolving group had been electrifying traditional British music for years and I suspect it was Anderson who wanted to be a part of this extraordinary musical communion of the past with the present, not the other way 'round.

No surprise after five consistently immaculate releases since 1970, the record is a sure-footed take on British folkrock by players who knew exactly what they were doing and from where their musical heritage had come. 'Drink Down the Moon' approaches gradually, Maddy Prior finally cutting through with her siren call, the funereal trudge of the band and Peter Knight's drunken-sailor fiddle. Trad. Child Ballad 'Two Magicians' sings of a maiden's flight from an amorous blacksmith, escaping his clutches as a swift-footed hare, and the slightly creepy title is sung by a nervous boys choir. Faeries come out to rock for 'Seven Hundred Elves', a call in the night, a gathering under the stars, a majikal happening. And Maddy serenades us with 'Long-A-Growing', a Traditional Round from the 18th Century [The Trees They Grow So High] about a young man's coming of age. A familiar dance arrangement in 'Mooncoin Jig', the stone-heavy, almost Sabbatic riffs of 'Edwin' supported by Tim Hart's sparkling banjo and Bob Johnson's electric blues accents. The at once dear, bizarre and off-key rendition of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' follows and the record ends with the superfluous and much maligned cover of 'To Know Him is to Love Him' sporting an alto sax solo by David Bowie.

Overall one of this endlessly talented brood's best, and an ideal place for a prog rocker to cut their teeth.

Report this review (#184919)
Posted Tuesday, October 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars 2.5 stars really!!!

Obviously titled after the group's expansion, having finally jumped the gap in hiring a drummer; indeed former Gnidrolog Nigel Pegrum joins forces with SS. Most ironic is that this was also their sixth album, but only the third with the present line-up , with only Prior and Hart as original members, but by this time their formula was wearing thin and the group tried to experiment to avoid being redundant. Of course, experimentation is a tricky and risky bet, that makes it either double or nothing, and unfortunately with this album, it comes up not empty, but no better than previous efforts. With (again) six birds up in the tree in the album's medieval artwork and Tull's Ian Anderson's production on the album, this is yet another fave from SS's less folk-purist fans. By this time, it's pretty hard not to call a SS a real folk rock group, although the sextet present two very distinct facets: the first being the rare-gem digging group exhuming pure folk songs with moderate success (as to what they found to unearth), and the second being a group that had a more pressing need to adapt some songs electrically to avoid redundancy and repetition.

Starting on the dynamite-laden Thomas The Rhymer track, the album opens on an almost parody of hard folk rock or metal folk, with unconvincing crunchy (and crushing) guitars. What the band tried was to repeat the guitar in the previous Parcel album, but they forgot to adapt it fittingly. Much more convincing is Drink Down The Moon, a trad folk, which is indeed what SS does best, especially when Knight comes in with his violin, relayed by a short electric guitar wail, but the track takes a predictable turn into a semi-jig finale. A very boring fiddle announces a very traditional Two Magicians, which indeed pull a cheap trick to attempt amazing the listener, outside a few power chords (this is clearly a Tull-inspired chord) that border the ridicule, next that fiddle and Maddy's fragile vocals, but in some ways (and completely involuntarily, I'm sure) there is a bit of GG's spirit in that track. A complete waste of time is the title track and its idiot sister Twinkle on the flipside, so I won't make a waste of ink or database space, as I won't for the yet-another obligatory jig(the "Mooncoin" jig, this time, but it sounds like nothing new under the sun. Boooooooring, uninventive, repetitititititive and redundant. Long-A-Growing should only be prescribed when insomnia perseveres, but this drug is so powerful that it should overcome that pesky buggering disorder, while the album-closing cheesy cover of some 50's Doo Wop hit is completely laughable, if not ridiculous.

The album's first highlight is the good Seven Hundred Elves, were the band is finally credible in its use of electricity and the Tull-inspired power chords don't sound silly or misplaced, while Knight's violin sounds like String Driven Thing's Graeme Smith. The other interesting and credible rocker is the crunchy Edwin, which appeared to be as monstrous a character as the opening electric guitar chords. The track develops a fun atmosphere and a rare flute and an underlining oboe (both courtesy of drummer Pergrum) happen happily along with electric guitar and riffing violin and even the whispered vocals (mixed a tad too loud for my taste) are tasteful and not hindering the track's repetitive listening capacities. Excellent stuff.

What many aficionados call SS's most prog albums presents a schizophrenic personality complex that ultimately ruins its credibility (something that the closing track achieves on its own), no matter what the Tull flauter tried to do from behind the production desk, he can't save the album from a relative d'ysaster. Some years are like that!! Still worth a spin for the few good tracks.

Report this review (#185014)
Posted Wednesday, October 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
3 stars With the addition of Nigel Pegrum as full time drummer and multi-instrumentalist, Steeleye Span was now ready to finally deliver the full punch of a folk-meets-hard-rock band. Their prior two recordings had been their strongest, and could have arguably been even stronger had they contained the full rhythm complement.

Yet part of their appeal was in the more streamlined and succinct quality of those works. In contrast, "Now we are Six" seems almost too ornate and self conscious. They also seem content to include a greater quotient of filler, a tendency that would hurt the next few efforts as well. I'm all for the occasional disposable item as long as it can give me a good day's use, but the mere selections of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "To Know Him is to Love Him" are simply inexcusable in a band of this caliber, and the arrangements do not put me in forgiving mood anyway. The title cut and "Mooncoin Jig" also seem tired and uninspired.

Luckily half the album points to the possibilities of this new lineup - "Thomas the Rhymer" is one of their proudest rockers, "Two Magicians" is imply charming, a fun loving depiction of 2 characters, one in unwanted pursuit of the other's innocence, who can also apparently change form to help or hinder the pursuit. Great ending. "Edwin" is one of those murderous ballads that Steeleye was continuing to perfect, while the bass work on "Seven Hundred Elves" highlights an already corking cut.

Certainly a step down from the prior two releases, this Steeleye effort still has some fine moments and is also of interest for the participation of Ian Anderson as production consultant. In the overall discography, I'd probably place it in a tie for Sixth.

Report this review (#186893)
Posted Saturday, October 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is an album of great highs and truly dreadful lows; indeed there are 3 tracks that would make any best of compilation and 3 that should never have been recorded, with the rest somewhere in between. It also marks the end of the folk-rock phase of Steeleye, with the introduction of a full time drummer and a greater emphasis on the rock they would now be describes as a rock-folk band.

Don't get me wrong - the opener Thomas the Rhymer is a rocky track and absolutely magnificent with a chorus you have got to sing along with; the two tracks which follow are perfectly pleasant but the 4th is dire and best skipped. Then comes the sinister Seven Hundred Elves, one of my favourite Steeleye tracks. Side 2 opens with the sad Long a Growing, a fine slow song, before exploding into brilliant life with The Mooncoin Jig, the sort of traditional folk jig full of mandolin and banjo at which Steeleye excel. Edwin is another pleasant slower, sad song but the album ends with two horrendous and superfluous tracks.

This really isn't up to the standard of the marvellous albums that went before (Below the Salt and Parcel of Rogues) but it still is worth buying just for the 3 bits of brilliance. And for Maddy Prior's lovely voice, of course!

Report this review (#186905)
Posted Saturday, October 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Coming of age

For their sixth album, Steeleye Span finally relented and brought in a drummer, the multi-talented Nigel Pegrum who had previously been a member of the Small Faces and Uriah Heep among others. The album title, which is borrowed from the work of AA Milne, therefore refers both to this being their sixth album, and the fact that they were now a six man (or person) line up. Pegrum would remain a member of the band for the next 17 years. (In terms of age, the band were however not quite six yet!)

The album was produced by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, the results being a fine collection of the usual traditional folk songs, but with an even more rock orientated sound. A number of the tracks here are superb examples of early 70's prog folk, with excellent arrangements. Admittedly, a couple of others are not of the same quality.

Taking the best tracks first, "Thomas the Rhymer" is a classic of prog folk. Be aware though that there are two versions of this track. On the original UK LP release, the track ran to almost 7 minutes, and featured a wonderful mix of soft passages and powerful guitar driven bursts. By the time the song crossed the Atlantic it had been curtained by 3 full minutes. Most subsequent compilations include the shorter version. The original version is by far the better though, Ian Anderson's crisp production bringing out the full classic beauty of the song. (Is that him playing flute perhaps?)

"Drink down the moon" is every bit as wonderful. Opening as a mournful instrumental dirge with delightful oboe (played by new boy Pegrum), the song develops as a gentle tale sung by Maddy Prior. As the story unfolds, the volume is subtly increased, with a bursts of lead guitar signalling the title verse. All of a sudden we are into a light, upbeat jig like section. "Drink down the moon" is a truly remarkable piece of prog folk. This track alone, makes the price of admission worthwhile.

As if the foregoing were not enough, "Seven hundred elves" is equally well arranged and performed, the choruses creating a rather sinister atmosphere as the elves head for the farmer's house to "share his meat and drink". Even the obligatory jig here, "The mooncoin jig", is a fine example of the mandolin and violin playing talents of Peter Knight.

The album concludes with a very rare cover of a contemporary song (the single "Rave on" was the last to appear on record). The version of Phil Spector's "To know him is to love him" by Steeleye Span may be out of character and devoid of folk influences, but as a song in its own right, I find it rather enjoyable. David Bowie even appears on the song playing sax.

Admittedly, the handful of songs I have not mentioned, including the two children's style numbers, may not be as essential as those above but they are not quite the disasters suggested by some critics elsewhere.

"Now we are six" is for me a classic prog folk album. It demands the full attention and indulgence of the listener, who in return will be rewarded by some quite astonishing fare. With this album, Steeleye Span came of age.

Report this review (#206811)
Posted Friday, March 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Now we are... as we should be!

This album is the beginning of the Steeleye Span that I like. The previous couple of albums had shown promise, and there was a clear progression over a series of albums that culminated with the next one, Commoner's Crown, but it was with Now We Are Six that it all first came together. The most significant change here is the addition of a drummer which is immediately apparent on the first track, Thomas The Rhymer, that opens the album with a bang. While earlier albums had been primarily Folk music with the addition of (a rather crappy sounding) electric guitar, this album is Folk Rock for the first time. The electric guitar sound is improved and the whole production is much improved. The producer of this album is none other than Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull! In addition to drums, they sound is also expanded with some strings, woodwinds, piano and even synthesisers! All of this gives Steeleye Span a more full sound that earlier albums lacked.

The material is generally very strong and surprisingly varied. Some of the songs are a bit out of place like To Know Him Is To Love Him including a saxophone solo by a guesting David Bowie! They surely was not afraid to try out new things and this is a very eclectic album indeed. I feel that this album, though very good, is slightly uneven due to the many different directions they want to go in. But this is at the same time part of its charm! Nice cover art it has too!

While Commoner's Crown is my favourite Steeleye Span album, Now We Are Six is equally interesting and this pair of albums is the place for the Prog fan to begin with Steeleye Span. This album is a good addition to a Prog collection and is definitely recommended!

Report this review (#209123)
Posted Saturday, March 28, 2009 | Review Permalink

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