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STEELEYE SPAN - Wintersmith: Deluxe Edition

STEELEYE SPAN - Wintersmith: Deluxe Edition
Park Records PRKCD138

Just this time last year, Steeleye Span unleashed their latest ambitious project, a quasi-concept album taking its inspiration (and much of its narrative import) from the third of Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books (the series of novels within the Discworld canon which follow the growth of the young trainee witch of that name), in collaboration with (and part-featuring the voice of) the author himself. It heralded a revitalised, re-energised Steeleye, sporting an expanded line-up and experiencing a new creative impetus in the challenge of exploring familiar themes through a fresh set of characters, all cast in the definitive, recognisable Steeleye prog-folk-rock mould. Spurred on by a clutch of enthusiastic reviews, the material from the initial tour and original album release was augmented during the course of the subsequent concert tour and four brand new songs were added which explore the story further and (very probably) render the project complete.

Hence the release, one year on, of a “deluxe edition” of Wintersmith, which reissues the original CD in tandem with a second disc. This is headlined by the aforementioned four new songs and bolstered up with a sequence of eight numbers from the original album recorded on the 2013 Wintersmith Live tour. Rounding off Disc 2, we then encounter a brace of early demos of two of the original songs, those penned by former guitarist Bob Johnson (who actually features on these demo recordings, although curiously his presence is not credited in the booklet).

These are fascinating but satisfying, and far from being tentative tryouts – Ancient Eyes has a quite different complexion due to its faster tempo and change of lead vocalist (Maddy does the honours on the final album version), while The Wee Free Men sports an altogether folkier funkiness and a key mandolin solo to boot. Returning to the four new songs recorded with new violinist, Jessie May Smart, they form a worthy, natural and in the end essential supplement to the original album, and range emotionally wide: from To Be Human, the barnstorming ‘final-showdown’ between Wintersmith and Tiffany, through the dark but gentle warning of Be Careful What You Wish For and Maddy’s lyrical yet stoic portrait of the kind and forthright Granny Aching, to the questioning love-ballad Just One Heart (the lyrics for which, reproduced in the booklet, contain one amusing typo: “the love stick Roland” which should read “love sick” – oops!…). The studio sound is bright and full of presence, arguably harking back to the band’s classic 70s sound. Finally to the live tracks, which feature Peter Knight before he departed the band earlier this year; these are supremely confident powerhouse renditions, confirming the enduring appeal of Steeleye as a live attraction.

In summary, Disc 2 is very much worth having, for it is by no means a mere filler or cash-in, although it may not be easy for those who bought the original album last year to justify the outlay when budgets are so tight these days.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.