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Steeleye Span - Horkstow Grange CD (album) cover


Steeleye Span


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3.07 | 8 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Hard rains and Gay Woods

Following the excellent "Time" album of 1996, Steeleye Span took a further two years before releasing a new studio album. Meanwhile Maddy Prior, who for most people was and is the voice of the band, left (albeit temporarily). Original vocalist Gay Woods, who had tentatively rejoined for "Time" thus found herself thrust into the role of principal singer. Drummer Liam Genockey had also moved on without direct replacement, so the renowned Dave Mattacks stepped in as a guest contributor for this album. His talents were not exploited to the full though, as the resulting album is largely devoid of the (folk) rock sound the band has made their own.

Virtually every track here is an interpretation of a traditional song, those interpretations tending to stick much more rigidly to the source. While there are no jigs or reels to be found, Woods' penchant for songs from the Erin Isle is apparent on several songs.

The opening "The old turf fire" would not have sounded out of place on the band's earliest albums, the underplayed percussion being the only real reminder that this is not the case. Woods' delivery is assured and melodic, but it is a better man than I who manages to avoid imagining a substitution of her voice with Prior's. We should bear in mind though that Woods has every right to be here, being a founder member.

"The tricks of London" is a light acoustic number which drifts close to nursery rhyme territory. The harmonies are pleasant, but the song is far from demanding for the listener. The title track "Horkstow grange" sees Steeleye Span finally recording the song which gave them their name. This tale of John "Steeleye" Span is delivered as an unaccompanied harmony piece. "Lord Randall" is perhaps best known as the song which Bob Dylan borrowed for "A hard rain's gonna fall". This traditional piece, which stems from the Scottish borders, moves into slightly more rock areas but only when compared with its peers on the album. The male vocal lead and general arrangement of the song contribute to is sounding rather out of character.

"Erin", an old name for Ireland, is an acoustic ballad which allows Woods to offer her most assured performance of the album. The song is clearly one selected by her, and as such suits her style better than any other. The track plays out with one of the few instrumental breaks of the album. "Queen Mary/Hunsden House" is a rather nondescript affair, while the following "Bonny birdy" combines finger in the ear whimsicality with a starkly contrasting but effective lead guitar ambience.

"Bonny Irish boy" is a touching ballad which once again finds Woods well within her comfort zone. "I Wish That I Never Was Wed" is, like the opening "The old turf fire", a song which would have worked well for Maddy Prior. Woods style sits less comfortably with the rather lusty, raucous demands of the piece. "Australia" was recorded as a tribute to former band member Nigel Pegrum who had emigrated to that country for personal reasons. The songs tells the tale of someone whose relocation there was somewhat less of their own choosing.

"One true love" sees Tim Harries taking on lead vocal duties in the band for the first time. He makes a good fist of it, his voice suiting the folk style well. The song itself though is something of an undistinguished dirge. The final track, "The parting glass" is perhaps the most demanding for Woods, the sparse backing accentuating the need for a strong vocal. To be fair, she carries the song well.

"Horkstow grange" was an album which split the Steeleye Span fan base. For some it was a welcome return to their folk roots, while for others the presence of Gay Woods in place of Maddy Prior was an unwelcome development. Trying to remain impartial, Woods does a good job, although it is clear that she is less comfortable when she is asked to take on songs clearly more suited to Prior. From a prog folk perspective, this is probably Steeleye Span's least significant album. In terms of the bands overall catalogue though, for me this is a pleasing addition.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |


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