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Steeleye Span - Parcel Of Rogues CD (album) cover


Steeleye Span


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3.59 | 43 ratings

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4 stars The same Steeleye Span lineup that produced their best album up to that point, "Below the Salt", was back for another run, even bolder and more in-your-face.

As with its predecessor, filler is kept to a minimum, with the weakest parts continuing to be those that are subject to least amplification and rearrangement, such as "The Ups and Downs", in which this lineup proves it cannot handle the silly singalong as well as its progenitors, even if it is in every other way superior. Instrumentals were rarely their forte, and this trend continues with the thankfully short "Robbery with Violins".

Elsewhere, one of the enduring Span classics is "Allison Gross", perhaps the heaviest song ever recorded without any percussion. The raucous story told in the first person by a poor fellow being pursued for romantic reasons by an ugly witch has a fuzzy guitar ending that really kicks, and I'm told that folkies and rockers alike used to stick their ears as close to the speaker as they could to absorb its impact in addition to the general noise level of this group's most imposing output. What did you say? "The Wee Wee Man" tastefully integrates the increasingly diverse corners of the band's sound.

Side 2 of the original vinyl is a non stop Spanfest. "The Weaver and the Factory Maid" transforms itself halfway through into an endearing Maddy Prior narrative backed by Peter Knight's most expressive fiddle. Then we have the stunning quasi title track. Nearly a cappella but for some hypnotic percussion, it is like a more mature and infinitely more earthy update on "Gaudete", which should rightly have been an even bigger hit. The melody is stirring. It is followed by one of Steeleye Span's most progressive songs, "Cam Ye all Frae France", even if it is only 2:45. Hey, any band that can sound progressive in less than 3 minutes is doing something right, right? It reminds me of some of Mike Oldfield's more inventive and Celtic sounding numbers that appeared a decade later, with fine acoustic and electric plucked melodies and a muted multi layered arrangement involving amorphous keyboards, not to mention Maddy's best Scottish rolling of the r's and some expectant rhythm guitar strums by Johnson. Truly another standout. The album ends with the more traditional "Hares on a Mountain", a lovely tune with Tim Hart at the helm, and a suitable closing.

While "Parcel of Rogues" is not a hugely progressive outing, it has as many elements that would please devout proggers as anything in their discography. More than a decade before the Pogues, these rogues managed to produce a Celtic rock album replete with hard rock attitude, justifiably considered their best by many. So start filling your parcel here and you get 4.5 stars.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |


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