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STEELEYE SPAN - Dodgy Bastards

STEELEYE SPAN - Dodgy Bastards
Park Records PRKCD148

The legendary Steeleye Span approaches its half-century (incredibly!) with a rejuvenated line-up and a superb new studio album. Not that their 2013 Wintersmith project was tired or lacklustre (far from it), but (the, I suspect, deliberately provocatively titled) Dodgy Bastards sees the good Doctor Span suitably regenerated and replete with a set of inventive rediscoveries that connect and draw parallels between the time zones of classic folk balladry and revivalist reinterpretation.

A good half of the album’s 12 tracks (a nicely weighty tally in these days of skimpy value and short measure) are directly sourced from the Child collection – virtually all of them (surprisingly) receiving the Steeleye branding for the first time, in thoughtful and considered readings that don’t short-change on the epic drama of the tales. The Lofty Tall Ship strikes a fair balance in this respect, while Two Sisters benefits from some harp-roleplay from guest Hattie Webb. Elsewhere the musical settings stretch from the classic, punchy, what might be termed “traditionally-Steeleye” sound of Cruel Brother and Gulliver Gentle & Rosemary to an altogether heavier-duty rock-flavoured climate on songs like The Gardener and Rick Kemp original Cromwell’s Skull, an approach that’s as strong on riffing and time-honoured prog-style axework (courtesy of guitarist Andrew Sinclair) as on whirling, soaring fiddle adventures. There’s even a passage of rapping midway through the spiky, driven reworking of Boys Of Bedlam. The band members deliver charismatic vocals throughout, especially impressively so from new recruit Jessie May Smart, who bravely takes the lead on Brown Robyn’s Confession. The remainder of the album includes obligatory bouncy instrumental jiggery (the title track), a “nutty” fun portrait of a dodgy character (Bad Bones), and at the other end of the scale two moments of delicious comparative repose with Shallow Brown and All Things Are Quite Silent (the latter revisited after 45 years).

Versatile and relevant as ever, Steeleye prove they’re more than just “span-ners in the works” of folk-rock, and still very much a force to be reckoned with in that hallowed arena.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 117 of The Living Tradition magazine.