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Steeleye Span

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3 stars Steeleye Span is one of my favourite band and it has been in for approximately eight years. "Wintersmith" is their twentyfirst studio record of which I haven't heard everyone. 1970-1978 was their best time of music fantasy but I have also heard very good stuff from them of later years. "They called her Babylon" is perhaps a 4/5-record and I also thought their last record of 2009 was pleasant. What's so fantastic is that the band is quite intact (in form of line up) with Maddy Prior on vocals, Rick Kemp on bass and vocals, Peter Knight om violin, vocals and piano, Liam Genockey on drums and percussion, Julian Littman on guitar, vocals and piano and Peter Zorn on guitar, saxophone and vocals. This record is a cooperation with the auther Terry Pratchett.

Steeleye Span is an always going train of folk rock music, just like Fairport Convention. When FC lost the most of its interest in the early seventies SS continued with their special sound and to be honest this latest effort "Wintersmith" is quite progressive. I feel like Steeleye Span here has done a different record and tried new approaches to their music. Then of course it's hard to find the I my mind known Steeleye style in these songs.

The record is mystic and has many interesting songs. It seems to be a concept record and in some songs they're going back to old themes such in "The Good Witch"(7/10) with lovely Maddy Prior vocals in the beginning in a melody which sounds very "Steeleyeish". The album's best songs are the title track "Wintersmith"(8,5/10) whish is of different kind. Just like Alison Gross, that song takes a new direction of folk rock and I love it, and "Band of Teachers"(8,5/10), also a lovely song. Some more tracks are worth mentioning: "The Wee Free Man"(8/10) is short and contains typical folky Steeleye harmonies, "Fire & ice"(8/10) contains perfect male and female voices and "The Summer Lady"(8/10) is also a lovely track. Beside of these tracks the album contains many nice songs but they don't interest me much.

Though do I lack very strong tracks such as on "They called her Babylon" and the album has too many okey songs. I absolutely appreciate the vocals both of Maddy Prior and of course of Rick Kemp. With 2013 over all music, this is certainly a 4/5-star record and I would consider it high standard music. Though must I review it as a Steeleye Span record, then is such a high rating unfair. 3,5 would have been the best, in their discography I feel comfortable with three stars.

Report this review (#1074848)
Posted Sunday, November 10, 2013 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Steeleye Span + Terry Pratchett = true

Wintersmith is a conceptual album based around some novels by well-known fantasy author Terry Pratchett. What is less well-known--at least it was news to me--is the fact that Pratchett is a long-standing fan of Steeleye Span and a personal friend of the members of the band. As is clearly written on the cover, Pratchett even participated in the making of this album. Though, his precise role in the proceedings is somewhat unclear to me (is it him doing the spoken word section in The Good Witch?). Clear is at least that the songs are based around themes from Pratchett's writings, specifically the novels featuring the Tiffany Aching character (which I haven't read, but I've read a few others of Pratchett's many books).

Putting music to Pratchett's Discworld has been done before by Dave Greenslade with moderate success. Steeleye Span is more successful. The imagery of Pratchett and the inventive Folk Rock of Steeley Span is a very good combination and it seems that the band gained in inspiration from working with a conceptual theme. This is one of those albums that are instantly likeable. The songs are catchy and easy to get into. There is a nice variation in tempos, instruments (they even dusted off the old saxophone and add some pipes & whistles) and vocals (male and female), but the songs are not overly progressive. The typical sound of the band, and the distinctive voice of Maddy Prior, is unmistakable and this album is in their trademark style. A fun and enjoyable listen. It is not however up to par with such strong latter-day Steeleye Span albums as They Called Her Babylon and Time.

This album is recommended for fans of both the band and the author. Now I feel like reading some Pratchett (a great man who sadly is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease).

Report this review (#1076988)
Posted Friday, November 15, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is definitely an album that I have tried to play in the summer time with poor results. It's not because the album is bad. It's just too damn wintery in feel which makes it perfect for early December and the rest of the cold snowy season.

The Wintersmith, released last year (2013) is a collaboration between Steeleye and Discworld series author Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is the million selling author of young people's fantasy stories that are on par with the Harry Potter series of fantacies, just to give you an idea of what your in for.

Prattchett wrote the lyrics of Wintersmith, based on his novel of the same name, which deals with one of the seasons of nature , winter, taking on a corporeal form and falling for a village girl named Tiffany.

First off, I would have to say that between this concept and the folk hard rock fusion of the music, combined with trad. instruments like Northumbrian pipes, this is the most progressive outing from Steeleye Span that I've ever encountered and that was an unexpected delight.

The band drafted in uber producer Chris Tsanderides to engineer the album while Steeleye are still the producers. This helped to tone down Tsanderides' often shrill sounding production and resulted in an excellently heavy, but not overdone, rhythm section and some louder and more piercing electric guitar. it's not Deep Purple meets Fairport as some reviewers have made it out to be, but it is highly effective and a refreshing sound change for the band.

As the Wintersmith himself is a character, bassist Rick Kemp and guitarist Julian Littman alternate vocals with the evergreen Maddy Prior. I wish Maddy sang a bit more on this album but she is the incarnation of the heroine Tiffany, so it has to be. Kemp and Littman are both excellent vocalists, so fear not.

The album grabs you immediately with the Dark Morris song, a preview of the musical themes to come, before jumping in the brooding title track Wintersmith which teases with little telltale traces of the musical nuances that this album will soon offer and features the first of many great lead vocals from Kemp. Featured prominently is the Celtic tinged fiddle of 4 decade member Peter Knight, who more than anyone else, evokes a feel of the forest and the smell of pine into this music. The other member of note is long time drummer Liam Genocky, who pulls a few surprises with his deft drum work and percussion work.

Prior does her best "Annie Haslam' sweet sounding vocals on the songs Band Of Teachers and Hiver before both she and Kemp launch into the astoundingly propulsive Fire And Ice. Their vocal harmonies, along with Littman's, on the song's fantastic chorus is one of the album's many highlights.

After listening to the anthemic Crown Of Ice and the beautiful ballad First Dance, were off to the instrumental Dark Morris tune that sounds both maniacal and melodious at the same time. A virtual dance into the Wintersmith's dark cold world.

There are two beautiful ballads on this album, First Dance , elegantly sung by Prior, and the albums closer (when the Wintersmith eventually recedes due to on coming springtime) titled we Shall Wear Midnight. I believe the last is sung by Littman and instead of Kemp, but I'm not sure as it's still performed beautifully.

The album does have a few clunkers that drag out the running time like Wee Fee Men and the fairytale like The Good Witch, but all in all, it's a terrific album and one of the best ever produced by Steeleye Span. 4 Stars and I highly recommend it to fans of Folk Prog, especially to fans of both the Strawbs, Fairport Convention and Horslips. And remember, winter goes by quickly, so get it now.

Report this review (#1324119)
Posted Sunday, December 14, 2014 | Review Permalink

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