Cogs, Wheels and Lovers is Steeleye Span's 21st studio album in 40 years. That's not bad going really. With a lot of bands that stay around for that long you generally come across signs of wear and tear. Steeleye have admittedly had difficult periods, but they are well and truly in the past as this album demonstrates.
The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite is as good as any opening track the band's done. Driving and rocky, it has something of Van Diemen's Land about it as they both talk about journeys by sea. There's some fantastic drum work courtesy of Liam Genockey and the intruments all fit in fantastically. The second track, Locks and Bolts, Is a lovely soft number and is pretty typical of the sound that Steeleye have developed since They Called Her Babylon in 2004.
Creeping Jane is up-tempo and fun song about a racing pony (if you remember Skewball from Ten Man Mop, this song is in a similar vain). It uses a similar formula to All Around My Hat: 12/8 time with a harmony chorus with Peter's violin, Rick's bass and Ken's guitar all complimenting Maddy's singing well (even with a quick guitar solo from Ken at the end!). Just as the Tide is a wonderful song about a sailor and his love, and really ought to be a classic.
My favourite track on the album is probably Ranzo, an almost American-sounding sea shanty. It's a fantastic arrangement by Peter Knight, featuring only a clap-track, pizzicato violin and harmony vocals. It's a brilliant sound that I'm not sure I've ever heard from Steeleye before. It's short (just under 3 minutes long), but it really shows Peter's ability and versatilaty as an arranger (check out Gigspanner if you haven't already).
The Machiner's song is equally interesting: it gives us an introduction and percussion line of machine noises. The vocals are quick and tell the story of a normal day's work as a machiner, and then it literally grinds to a halt at the end of the song. Our Captain Cried is a slightly melancholy song, set to the tune of "To Be A Pilgrim", the same tune used for the chorus of Fighting for Strangers. A similar live song coupled with Margold/Harvest Home was included on the compilation, A Rare Collection.
Two Constant Lovers is probably my other favourite song on the album. It's almost Dark-Eyed Sailor-esque, but with a different, much sadder ending. This is another of Peter's songs, and he handles it very well. This is followed by the much more up-beat Madam, Will You Walk?. It's pretty much the London of this album, with effetively the same formula as Creeping Jane. It's a good singalong number which listeners will probably recognize it from this year's tours with Pete Zorn.
The Unqiet Grave is similar (but slightly different) to Tim Harries' One True Love, except in this case the protagonist's love speaks to her. The introduction and instrumental breaks are billiantly haunting, especially Peter's violin. Thornaby Woods is a bouncy song with a very interesting arrangement with very quick vocals that take some careful listening to work out! There's also a hidden track which a quick internet search tells me is called Selkie or The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry, to give it its full title. It's a beautiful yet sad song about a Selkie who reveals to a woman that he is the father of her child, who then says he will come and the child from her. It's every bit like Betsy Bell and Mary Gray; a duet by Maddy and Peter featuring fantastic singing and fiddle work.
This album is fantastic. Maddy and Peter have truly owned it. The album is very much theirs, in the same sense that Bedlam Born was Tim's album. The only slight criticism I can make of the album is that it would have been nice if Ken and Rick had each done a song of their own. Other than that, there isn't a track I don't like, and there's plenty to keep any Steeleye fan going.
Oh, and just a PS, as Amazon haven't done it, here is the track list:
1. Gallant Frigate Amphitrite
2. Locks and Bolts
3. Creeping Jane
4. Just as the Tide
6. The Machiner's Song
7. Our Captain Cried
8. Two Constant Lovers
9. Madam will you Walk
10. The Unquiet Grave
11. Thornaby Woods
12. The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry