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Steeleye Span - Live at Last CD (album) cover


Steeleye Span


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3.10 | 10 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
3 stars Rating a live album is always difficult. Firstly, one is generally reviewing versions of songs that already appeared in at least one studio incarnation, and sometimes in other live renditions, so it has a lot of internal competition. Secondly, when bands have more turnovers than apples, they have to perform tunes to which they have little emotional attachment, that may have been popularized by previous members. Thirdly, they do not tend to be good places to start one's exploration of a group, but instead are oriented towards the existing fan base. Other reasons can be found but this, after all, a review of a rather unusual live album so let's begin.

Before the recording of Steeleye Span's 10th album, "Storm Force Ten", Bob Johnson and fiddler Peter Knight left, to be replaced by former member Martin Carthy and accordion player John Kirkpatrick. This altered their sound and affected their ability to play many of their classics in concert. When they sensed the end was near, they recorded this live album for posterity, never knowing that the split would be relatively short lived. They chose a combination of new and old songs, and stayed away from renditions of the most popular songs, although perhaps the full concert did contain some of these. As a result, "Live at Last" feels in some ways like an original album, which makes it a hybrid that is even harder to evaluate.

The weak points are the accordion dominated tunes that appear mostly in the first half, and "Rag Doll", another attempt at recouping the 1950s. In between we have the excellent "Black Freighter" from Threepenny Opera and the fun "Hunting the Wren". "False Knight on the Road" shows how Kirkpatrick's squeezebox can best be integrated into the new sound. But honestly, the only real reason to get this is the 15 minute "Montrose", which never appeared in studio form. It isn't just the longest and best song, but it really has many progressive elements, while the verse and chorus are both fully realized and developed. It is quite a shock for such an epic to appear at the 11th hour and be so convincing.

So "Live at Last" fails some aspects of ideal live albums and pummels the opponents in others. It all hinges on how much you want to hear a honking 15 minute behemoth from Steeleye. 3.5 stars rounded down, because in the end it is more of a disjointed collection of songs in a setting in which they don't fully support one another.

kenethlevine | 3/5 |


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