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STEELEYE SPAN Winter Park Records PRKCD74

I, like many other Steeleye Span fans have been waiting with great anticipation for this seasonal offering from the band. Starting with a hugely enjoyable 'First Nowell' there is the swooping, riff laden violin of Peter Knight crossing swords with Ken Nicol's crashing guitar chords which coupled with Liam Genockey's drums, Rick Kemp's bass and Maddy Prior's glorious vocals you have the band at their rocking best. The second track 'Down In Yon Forest' will have the traditionalists coughing into their porridge, as the melody is a waltz re-working of an already established tune (I may be wrong but I think it's The King Of The Fairies). Now this is something that has become something of a trademark for the band - creating stunning settings utilising familiar traditional tunes to accompany lyrics that sound as if they shouldn't be there. Of course, this could alienate those of a delicate disposition but for the more adventurous it is classic Steeleye. The title track 'Winter' is a beautiful, almost solemn composition by Mr Knight and by clever use of multi-tracking shows that he has lost none of his edge when it comes to producing audio pleasurable delights that may seem quirkily at odds within the setting of the band. Talking of genuine oddities, the style police might have a thing or two to say about the Pogues/Status Quo style treatment given to that hoary old chestnut 'Good King Wenceslas'. It's bold and brash and (if you treat it in the jokey way it's intended) would give even Slade a run for their money! But donıt worry it's only on the one track and if you really want to be stunned by an arrangement listen to 'In The Bleak Midwinter'. Peter excels himself with a performance that proves an emotive tour de force crowned by Maddyıs wonderful voice. What a great start to Christmas!

Pete Fyfe

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This album was reviewed in Issue 60 of The Living Tradition magazine.