Sat, 14 Mar 2015 15:58:27 +1300
Steeleye Span—Bloody Men
CD review by Barry Curtis.
Copyright © 2007.
All Rights Reserved.
The album sleeve features the faces of the Steeleye line-up all melded together. It takes concentration to tease out drummer Liam Genockey in the centre. Arty, and impressive. The first thing dedicated folk rock fans will notice about this album is the sheer number of covers and new renditions of old songs. Such is the case with folk – stories are often recycled and retold. In this instance it helps give the album an air of familiarity on initial hearings.
The album opens with
Bonny Black Hare, set to the same tune as the Fairport Convention original (found on Angel Delight), though this is rockier and features a heavier bass. Like another song with a double entendre –
Drink Down the Moon (Present / Now We Are Six), Maddy lets rip with the raunchy vocals. Second up is
The Story of the Scullion King, a Ken Nicol ballad with a fantastic regal tune. Maddy sings the third song entitled
The Dreamer and the Widow. For me, this echoes
Mantle of Green found on the previous album, They Called Her Babylon. Next up is
Lord Elgin, a riddle song. It is most likely the riddle refers to a watch. The song is all about time and Elgin watches have been a big industry in the United States. The guest book on Peter Knight's website contained many entries calling for this song to be released as a single. I'm not sure it would do well commercially, though the tune is extremely infectious and the chorus contagious.
I love the next song,
The Three Sisters. Ken Nicol relates the tale with a Yankee Doodle feel and it gets the feet tapping along. The subsequent jig,
The 1st House in Connaught bears more than a passing resemblance to the tunes found on Tempted and Tried, though it's a bit heavier.
Next up is a cover of a Steeleye song originally found on the Ten Man Mop album,
Cold Haily Windy Night. Originally sung by the mighty Martin Carthy, this time Rick Kemp makes it his own and I prefer this version ultimately because of the added percussion.
Whummil Bore follows on, referring to an incident of spying a beautiful woman through a hole in the wall. Maddy sings it with trademark class.
Demon of the Well is the ninth song and it has a supernatural feel reminiscent of the good old Bob Johnson ballads. Ken Nicol seems to be filling old Bob's shoes well. Next up is
Lord Gregory, a cover of a traditional song captured on Maddy Prior and June Tabor's first Silly Sisters album. I prefer the earlier version, it has to be said, because of the harmonies therein and the traditional instruments. Nevertheless this is still a moving song about a romantic encounter that ends in despair.
The second disc on this bipartite album (why couldn't it all fit on one disc?) concerns the activities of the Luddites, a group from the industrial revolution who used to smash up machinery to prevent scab labour from working whilst they were on strike. This great ballad is split into five parts with distinct tunes and lyrics. This is Rick Kemp's baby and it goes some way in reflecting the dynamic protesting spirit of the age with the limits of the Luddites' own protest: they could not envisage alternative ways of organising production, and so were restricted to industrial sabotage. This leads to a kind of cynicism as the misery is simply perpetuated with added violence. Unfortunately the song as a whole is too romantic. In my opinion, a Levellers-style folk-punk treatment might have relayed the feelings of anger to better effect.
Given the identity of the band's line-up, one is invited to compare Bloody Men with They Called Her Babylon. Both albums have highs and lows: with Bloody Men,
Lord Gregory is probably the most lacklustre. The best tracks for me are
Cold Haily Windy Night and
Lord Elgin. The album as a whole is superior to Babylon, in my opinion, thanks to less melancholy. I give it a worthy 8/10.