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STEELEYE SPAN "They Called Her Babylon" Park Records PRKCD70

Is it really thirty-five years since Steeleye Span burst on to the folk scene? Ah, far-off heady days. GAUDETE in the charts and Maddy Prior tripping down the staircase at Warwick Castle on a T.V. folk rock spectacular. A thirty fifth anniversary album could be a disappointment. Has the group lost its magic? Are they living on their past reputation? On the basis of this album the answer is a resounding no

After three tracks that show that the instrumentalists have lost none of their flair and that Maddy Prior still has that unique voice, they surprise us with a sudden switch to five/four time with The Bride's Farewell , which could have come from Eastern Europe but was, in fact, composed by Peter Knight. The title track is, for me, the least successful.

It's over-long and can only be understood by reference to the detailed sleeve notes.

This is followed by two religious songs; the haunting Bede's Death Song and Diversus and Lazarus. The beautiful Irish harp tune Si Begh si mohr , the ballad Child Owlet, which, unsurprisingly Maddy learnt from Martin Carthy. After several listenings this song is growing on me, as good songs do; and a lilting version of the classic What's the Life of a Man? completes a fine and varied album. Here's to the next thirty-five years!

Howard Baker.

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.