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The Circle Is Unbroken: Live And Studio 1967-1972
Castle CMDDD1210

In some ways this is a strange release, pairing two quite separate eras from the band's history and with much of the material - and in these versions - having already been issued on previous albums. This new double CD does however include three previously unreleased bonus tracks.

Disc 1 "The Chelsea Sessions 1967" is a wonderful collection of songs which demonstrate just how creative Robin Williamson and Mike Heron were - way ahead of their time - in terms of song subject, structure, content, singing style and use of a wide array of instruments previously largely unheard in Britain. This was at a time between the release of their first and second albums, after Clive Palmer had left and Robin had returned from Morocco with new ideas and exotic instruments. Some of this material eventually found its way in revised form onto 5000 Spirits. Other songs here - perhaps just as strong - didn't make it onto ISB albums of the period. (Listen to God Dog as a small example of this - which was later recorded by Shirley Collins and - on the ISB version - finds Dolly Collins playing the pipe organ).

Disc 2 "Live in Canada 1972" is a recording from a concert in the autumn of that year. By this time the band had undergone various changes in personnel, was beginning to lose its focus musically and would in fact disband two years. These live recordings do however contain some strong performances and for the first time include the song introductions from the concert, giving the listener an insight into the dynamic between band members in a live setting.

The previously unreleased bonus track on Disc 1 - All Too Much for Me / Take Your Burden to the Lord / Light from the Lighthouse - is a medley from (in fact) 1968. The Disc 2 bonus tracks are Oh Did I Love a Dream (a wistful piece by Malcolm Le Maistre) and The Hag with the Money (a traditional Irish jig). Informative sleeve notes places each set of recordings in context.

A curious release, then - one for complete-ists regarding the bonus tracks and song intros. For newer listeners, an interesting introduction but several of the other ISB albums - both re-issued studio albums and collections released in recent years - may offer more accessible inroads into their music.

George Dow

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This album was reviewed in Issue 66 of The Living Tradition magazine.