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PETE CASTLE "The Outlandish Knight" Steel Carpet MATS024CD
PETE CASTLE "Tapping At The Blind" Steel Carpet MATS025CD

Although released separately, these are essentially two halves of a double CD. Pete Castle had wanted to do a single CD combining songs and stories but found he had too much material, so the first comprises songs with a couple of stories and the second mainly stories with a song and a tune.

"The Outlandish Knight" sees a selection of fairly well known traditional songs given the Castle treatment, nothing flash, nothing startlingly original, just the solid, workmanlike performances for which Castle is rightly celebrated around the clubs. There is, however, the Eastern European setting of the title track (not entirely happily, to my ear), a Romanian makeover for Death And The Lady and a tango rhythm for Three Maidens A-Milking did go which, as Castle asserts, the song always invited. There's also a commendable version of As I Roved Out in which Castle's reading draws out the tragic, self-inflicted plight of the hapless swain who's stupidly thrown away the love of his life, but thinks all may yet be well if the monarch pulls his troops out of foreign parts. Fat chance, fella.

I can't help feeling that "Tapping At The Blind" might have benefited from the reactions of a live audience. However, the studio recording does have an undeniable immediacy and combines with Castle's unedited little fluffs to convey the impression that the teller is recounting his frequently bizarre tales in your own living room. "Stories For Grown-ups" is an appropriate subtitle; the casual incest and ultra violence of "The Armless Maiden" is certainly not the stuff to play to the kids at bedtime if horrific nightmares are to be avoided. The little darlings might also have their sleep disturbed by the concluding brief little chillier, At Last We're Alone, both title and payoff line. They could take more kindly to the ursine coprophilia of The Woman Who Married A Bear - "this woman shits gold", exclaims a bear at one point (no, it would take too long to explain) - apart from the less-than-happy ending (at least for the bear). In fact, the endings are much like the stories themselves; little artfulness and few twists, just a reflection of the ordinary, arbitrary, messy nature of existence, succinctly encapsulated in the closing lines of The Armless Maiden: and I won't pretend that they lived happily ever after - because they didn't. But they did discuss things and they did apologise for things that had happened in the past" (So am I forgiven for cutting off your breasts, daughter dear? No problem, father dear - I grew another pair.) "And they were reconciled to each other; and they got by for the rest of their lives just as well or as badly as most families manage to." Goodnight, children - everywhere.

Dave Tuxford

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This album was reviewed in Issue 53 of The Living Tradition magazine.