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Steeleye Span - Below the Salt CD (album) cover


Steeleye Span


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3.66 | 54 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
4 stars After a decent debut and a couple of tentative follow-ups with Ashley Hutchings at the helm, Steeleye Span recruited guitarist Bob Johnson and bassist Rick Kemp, who provided them with much needed muscularity. While on the prior two releases the lack of a drummer was palpable, here one simply doesn't notice or care, because the newcomers provide a rock backing that fills out the full band sound.

Right from the opening track the change in attitude and impact is joyous. "Spotted Cow" is ostensibly about a young woman who is searching for her missing livestock, apparently a metaphor for virginity. Maddy's lead vocals are delightful but the spotlight is nearly stolen by Johnson's crunching guitar as it shifts pace, ebbs and flows, and almost does a stand in for an accordion. "Rosebud in June" is Steeleye at their a cappella best, but then so is the British hit, the reverent Latin hymn "Gaudete", in which the volume creeps up slowly, reaches maximum level for mere seconds, and then just as slowly slinks away. "Sheep Crook and Black Dog" returns to the sinister airs of the prior albums but with a greater maturity and purpose, while "Royal Forester" is a lively song (like a jig with words) led by Maddy but amply backed by Knight's fiddles and the powerful bass and guitars.

The album closes strongly with a splendid rendition of "John Barleycorn" and the inventive and engaging "Saucy Sailor". The version of the former is soooo different from that of Traffic that one can see just how much interpretation was involved in Steeleye's adaptations, one of the aspects that qualifies them as progressive. At their best, which is on 90% of this excellent album, Steeleye Span was a group that knew how to blend the simple honesty of folk music, the power of rock, and the nuances of progressive rock. In contrast with Fairport Convention who started fairly strong but were quickly savaged by key personnel losses, Steeleye Span started slowly, only blossoming when they were able to salt away the encumbrances of a few of their early members.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |


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