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They Called Her Babylon

Album review by Barry Curtis.
Copyright © 2004.
All Rights Reserved.

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Steeleye's latest album contains something for everyone. For fans of Maddy's weaving sensual vocals, Mantle of Green and Bride's Farewell are pretty songs, exuding a melancholic warmth. For those that prefer a rockier Steeleye, check out Samain - a song about Halloween, They Called Her Babylon – the story of a feudal resistance against Parliamentarians set in 1644, and Diversus and Lazarus – a song about the pitfalls of greed completely altered from the Oyster Band's version on 'Freedom and Rain'. An instrumental track is contained in the form of Si Begh Si Mohr. This is a far too inoffensive track unlike classics such as Robbery With Violins (Parcel of Rogues) or even Sligo Maid (Rocket Cottage), but perhaps the band decided on the soft option to form a balance with the more macabre tales. An (extremely brief) all-vocal offering comes in the shape of Bede's Death Song. In Heir of Linne, the band really comes together to produce a song that ranks with the best of the Steeleye ballads. Pay close attention to the changing fortunes of the poor heir of Linne, and enjoy the twists and turns of the story, set to a memorable tune. Child Owlet is a particularly gruesome ballad as a woman scorned gets two horses to rip apart her man.

The album kicks off with Van Diemen's Land, an excellent opening track with a Leveller's-style dramatic electric violin. This makes it a highly accessible number and would no doubt appeal to newer Steeleye fans or those that seek an introduction to the Steeleye canon. Through many tales of love's lost (and refound), treachery, war, and death (Steeleye's usual themes, then), we conclude with What's the Life of a Man?. If the lyrics are rather anti-humanist (What's the life of a man any more than a leaf? A man has his seasons so why should we grieve?) – surely people are worth more than leaves? – the song is catchy and functions in the same way as The Song Will Remain from 'Time'.

Overall the album will no doubt get you whistling, humming, and banging the arms of your chair. It will appeal to Steeleye fans old and new. Ken Nicol replaces Bob Johnson on lead guitar (unfortunately Bob has a heart condition), and really lets rip, especially on the rockier tracks. A worthy successor to the tragic Bob. If there is any criticism, it is that Maddy rarely stretches herself throughout the album. Whilst her vocals are typically top-notch, her range of notes is considerably more conservative than usual. Nevertheless this is a fantastic album and it sits alongside Steeleye's best.

Barry Curtis, October 2004, UK.