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Steeleye Span - Bedlam Born CD (album) cover

BEDLAM BORN

Steeleye Span

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kenethlevine
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Prog-Folk Team
3 stars No less than a dozen albums, 30 years, countless permutations, and several reunions on, Steeleye Span finally presents a configuration sans Maddy Prior. While this might have been unimaginable, indeed unfeasible, in the early days, in 2000 it was barely surprising. The group has been akin to a family unit of late: just because Maddy isn't living at home anymore doesn't mean she has been excommunicated - in fact, she has appeared at Spanfest several times in the interim.

The remaining members, mostly veterans by this point, turn in a more than credible performance, which at times rocks harder than the group has since "Rocket Cottage", not a bad point of comparison. The difference is that the radiating Celtic and Olde English edges have been smoothed, such that "Well Done Liar" and "John of Ditchford" sound more like straight ahead rock than the group ever did. It's still distinctive, thanks to Johnson's voice and guitar, Harries' bass, Knight's fiddle and the inimitable male/female harmonies. Gay Woods also has some ideas of her own and really blossoms on haunting tunes like "I See His Blood upon the Rose" helped in no small part by Knight, and the anthemic power ballad "Beyond the Dreaming Place".

Even if several tunes in both categories miss the mark - "We Poor Labouring Men" and "The Connemara Cradle Song" among them - this remains a noteworthy if unspectacular effort in the fascinating bedlam that is the Steeleye Span story.

Report this review (#192722)
Posted Friday, December 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Chaos and confusion result in a fine album

Two years after the release of "Horstow Grange", Steeleye Span returned with an unchanged line up. Apparently taking on board criticism of the previous album, this time the band went all out to record something which rocked. Recording of the album was to prove something of a challenge for the group, the cracks in the line up starting to appear even before it was complete. As a result, singer Gay Woods sings lead vocals on only 5 of the 14 tracks here.

The title of the album is derived from the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, UK, a long established mental health institution whose name has mutated over the centuries. These days, the term "bedlam" is used as a synonym of chaos and confusion.

The thumping drum beat of guest Dave Mattacks which introduces "Well done liar" immediately indicates that his talents will be more fully exploited than they were on "Horkstow grange". The heavy nature of the track is reminiscent of songs such as "Seven hundred Elves" (from the 1974 album "Now we are six"). The male lead vocal and strong lead guitar also give the song a Jethro Tull feel, although the infectious "Who's the fool now" chorus quickly takes us back to Steeleye Span. "Who told the butcher" sounds similar to a more recent Trevor Lucas Fairport Convention song. The piano basis for the piece supports a melodic light ballad.

"John of Ditchford" returns us to the heavy sounds of "Well done liar", with screaming feedback on the earthy lead guitar and a menacing lead male vocal from Tim Harries (who wrote the song). This is by some way the heaviest track recorded in the band's name. According to Gay Woods, the religious overtones of "I See his Blood Upon the Rose" led to some complaints from fans, a rather odd reaction given that one of their biggest hits "Gaudete" captured the Christmas market with its Latin Christian chant. The song is a beautiful piece which captures Woods vocal abilities and the fine violin of Peter Knight.

"Black Swan" is a brief solo violin spot for Peter Knight similar to "A Canon by Telemann" on the "Back in line" album. "The beggar" is an enjoyable but prosaic mid-paced traditional song arranged by Bob Johnson. Peter Knight's reflective "Poor old soldier" has the air of familiarity, but the delivery is sensitive and poignant. The brief "Arbour" features piano and violin accompanying spoken passages from Woods. It is an interesting experiment, although Woods seems to rush the text a little.

"There was a Wealthy Merchant" is another traditional song, arranged by Tim Harries. The song is presented as a sort of power folk ballad (if you will!) with further feedback guitar. An alternating male/female lead vocal is used effectively here, the track also featuring further spoken word. "Beyond the Dreaming Place" maintains the melancholy mood, Woods offering a fine vocal against intrusive keyboards and lead guitar which imitates bagpipes. The resultant whole is a wonderfully atmospheric piece.

"We Poor Labouring Men" is another traditional song, but this time the arrangement is a rather unoriginal, the song simply getting the Steeleye Span treatment. The lead vocals here create a Strawbs like effect. "The Connemara Cradle Song" is of course a gentle lullaby. Woods voice and Knight's violin combine against a melodic back drop to offer a gentle Judy Collins like arrangement. The song is co-credited as traditional and written by Delia Murphy, an Irish folk singer sometimes referred to as "The Queen of Connemara".

Tim Harries song "Stephen" proved controversial for the same reasons as "I See his Blood Upon the Rose", the song telling the tale of King Herod's order to kill all the infants in Bethlehem ("Bedlam") in an effort to entrap Jesus Christ. The arrangement of the song is reminiscent of Strawbs songs such as "New World" and "The hangman and the papist", even featuring what sounds like mellotron.

The closing "The white cliffs of Dover" is indeed the song made famous by Vera Lynn. Here though this interpretation opens with some haunting spoken word, the songs arrangement being atmospheric and moody.

In all, a fine album which is much more in keeping with the traditional sound of Steeleye Span. The greater than usual use of male vocals and the absence of Maddy Prior will not find favour with some hardcore fans of the band, but most should be pleased with what they hear.

This would prove to be the last album by this line up, significant changes taking place before the band returned to the studio again.

Report this review (#290292)
Posted Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | Review Permalink

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