Sunday, 10 March 2019

Steeleye Span - Dodgy Bastards (2016)

  

Released November 2016

This is an excellent folk rock album from the legendary Steeleye Span. It is the last before the retirement of long-standing member Rick Kemp, and includes new, young violinist Jessie May Smart in place of the wonderful Peter Knight. She performs impressively as well. The album is a return to the traditional folk ballad sources that has featured n all their many albums, save 2013's Terry Pratchett collaboration "Wintersmith". Excellent as that album was it is good to have them back doing this traditionally-inspired material once more. Love the cover too.

TRACK LISTING

1. Cruel Brother
2. All Things Are Quite Silent
3. Johnnie Armstrong
4. Boys Of Bedlam
5. Brown Robin's Confession
6. Two Sisters
7. Cromwell's Skull
8. Dodgy Bastards
9. Gulliver Gentle And Rosemary
10. The Gardener
11. Bad Bones
12. The Lofty Tall Ship/Shallow Brown

The lengthy narrative of "Cruel Brother" begins with some harmonious a capella vocals before that typical Steeleye electric guitar/drum backing powers in and Maddy Prior's soaring voice takes over. This is solid, muscular Steeleye Span folk rock at its finest. Jessie Smart's violin is excellent. "All Things Are Quite Silent" is a quiet, tender ballad with minimalist backing and a fine vocal from Prior.  "Johnnie Armstrong" is a punchy rousing rock number concerning the feuding, "Border Reiver" families of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders - The Armstrongs and The Elliots. It again features some impressive violin.

"Boys Of Bedlam" first appeared on 1971's "Please To See The King". Here is is given a makeover drenched in searing guitar feedback, and, would you believe - a rap! Yes, Julian Littman (I think) does a hip/hop-influenced, thumping vocal and deep bass break in the middle. Fair play to them for doing this. It is an energetic, storming track, full of verve and vibrancy. great drums sounds on it too, from the ever-reliable Liam Genocky. Great stuff. The melodic, haunting "Brown Robin's Confession" is, I believe, sung, sweetly, by Jessie Smart. She adds some fetching violin to the solid guitar and drum backing. Peter Knight's shoes were huge ones to fill, but you really don't notice the difference here, she is that good.

"Two Sisters" has a funky-ish guitar backing and a confident vocal from Prior and yet more wonderful violin. The melody has echoes of Mark Knopfler's "Why Aye Man", vaguely, for me. It is another highly convincing track. Intoxicating from beginning to end. A beautifully evocative violin introduces the narrative "Cromwell's Skull". Again, I think it is Littman and Rick Kemp on male vocals, and Prior comes in on the uplifting chorus parts. It is a tuneful, powerful number. It imagines Cromwell's skull reflecting on his life. It features some fine guitar work near the end of its eight and a half minutes. Time for a traditional Steeleye jig? We get one, in the frantic title track, but it is seriously heavy, the madcap violin backed by some chunky guitar and pounding drums.

"Gulliver Gentle and Rosemary" is an exhilarating, effervescent rocker reminiscent of some of Steeleye's nineties/early 2000s material, such as appeared on "Bloody Men" and "Cogs, Wheels And Lovers". It is catchy, upbeat and thoroughly uplifting. The brooding "The Gardener" has Prior on fine, beguiling vocal form. There really is some good material on this album. "Bad Bones" is another vaguely contemporary-sounding Julian Littman number with some wry lyrics and strong vocals. It features another "rap" piece in the middle too. It is ok, but it does sound a tiny bit incongruous alongside the other material on the album. The ten-minute "The Lofty Tall Ship/ Shallow Brown" begins with a bleak, haunting vocal/violin/drum first part. Prior's vocal is powerful and gritty. The second part is a stately, moving sea shanty, "Shallow Brown", featuring some killer guitar soloing and a violin that sounds as if Peter Knight has come back into the studio. Just beautiful.

Although the album weighs in at a whopping seventy-two minutes and is certainly a monster of a work, full and heavy, packed full of atmosphere, musical brilliance and interesting lyrical tales. Most highly recommended.

B+

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