on 18 September 2003
Like most people, I'm wary when someone says "Listen to this, you'll love it", but I am grateful to the friend who, knowing my fondness for Incredible String Band/Fairport/Steeleye etc loaned me a copy of "Swaddling Songs". After the first track I had to collect my eyebrows from the ceiling and my jaw from the floor. Forgive the hyperbole, suffice to say before the second track had finished I was online placing an order for my own copy of this terrific album. Its a stunner. It seems amazing to me that an album of such evident quality was largely ignored when it came out in 1972, especially as the aforementioned folk-rock groups were doing such big business back then. The music is tight, with Rush-like precision and drama in many of the instrumental passages. Baroque, folk, mystical and just plain wierd flourishes abound (all of which is fine by me), but the real eye-opener is the quality of the vocals. These two girls sing with individual brilliance and frequently breathtaking harmonies. Among the more gentle, reflective tracks "Reverend Sisters" and "Silver Song" are standouts, while "Dan the Wing", "Buy or Beware" and especially "Boulders on my Grave" are wild uptempo pieces delivered with great flair. The wole album is hugely entertaining, and yes, I do recommend it to anyone with an interest in classic folk-rock.
I'm not sure how I stumbled across this album (probably signposted by Amazon following buying Trees' debut), but am I glad I did: this album is not only superb - it is really quite unique. I should state at this point that I am not a particular fan of folk music (I'm far more at home with the rock genre) which makes my affection for this album all the more remarkable but, as soon as I heard these tunes, I felt I was listening to something quite special. To begin with I was mildly intrigued and was expecting something along the lines of 'The Garden Of Jane Delawney' and was not disappointed. What I was not expecting is just how good these compositions are: they just get better and better with repeated playing - there is a real depth to the songs that still continue to reveal interesting and charming details after many, many plays. While there are tracks on this album that do adhere to a traditional folk 'sound' (particularly vocally e.g. 'The Poet and the Witch') the unusual arrangements and time signatures keep them from being predictable. But for me where this album really takes off is in the tracks that are the least 'folky'. Tracks such as 'Heaven Heath', 'Sheep Season' and 'Silversong' (what an opening salvo!) have a feel and folk-rock dynamism that puts me in mind of Renaissance yet, unlike Renaissance these tracks sound quite literally 'timeless' in that they do not sound dated: it is easy to imagine contemporary artists covering some of the material here without having to update the arrangements or sound. The twin female vocalists deserve special mention as they are simply outstanding - like having two Annie Haslams in the band! The harmonisation between these two is remarkable and their vocal compatibility is seamless (I can see what one reviewer means when comparing them to the girls from Abba). Satisfyingly the album has been produced to best exploit this to devastating affect by complete stereo separation in certain tracks - listen to 'Vile Excesses' on headphones to be blown away by this technique (incidentally one of the vocalists, Alison O'Donnell, is still recording and recently added her fabulous voice to The Owl Service's latest album). Another track worthy of particular mention is 'Reverend Sisters'. This track opens with a haunting piano figure that remains musically fragile and unadorned save for the truly awesome siren vocals of the girls. The musical story that develops is nothing short of a devastating commentary of what can only be understood as someone's experience of child abuse in a convent school. It is as shocking as it is beguiling: every time I hear it I am left quite shaken by the understated power it imparts ('Come into our office and I'll show you..' enjoins the Sister. How utterly creepy is that?).
It is completely mystifying why this album has been unavailable for so long. It is easily the equal - probably better in fact - than many albums of the period either of the folk or rock genre. Perhaps it suffered from being 'neither one thing nor 'tother' which is a great shame. Still at least we can enjoy this lost gem of a record in all its glory at long last: the remastering job is first rate - wonderfully rounded and detailed sound. Totally recommended.
on 14 November 2003
Anyone who ever liked Fairport or The Trees, or even Kate Bush will love this album. This otherworldly Irish folk masterpiece has long been highly valued in collectors circles, vinyl copies changing hands at hundreds of quid. Every now and then its briefly available on CD, and I believe Acme are about to re-issue it again. Don't miss this opportunity next time. Perfect album for when you want to creep under the ivy, or escape into the mist.
Back in the misty fairy-lore days of 1994 - a good friend of mine called John Tracy came into Reckless Records in Islington when I was the Mail-Order/Rarities Manager there. John is one of the nicest guys I know and has staggering knowledge of Rock music in all its forms. A former employee of Decca - John did those detailed liner notes for the first vanguard of Decca and Deram CDs between 1987 and 1990. Artists like Savoy, Brown, Thin Lizzy, Ten Years After, Keef Hartley, Caravan, Cat Stevens, The Moody Blues and so on.
So one afternoon John comes in with only 'one' album to sell this time - Mellow Candle's "Swaddling Songs". He plops it on the counter in virtually unplayed condition and smiles (I can hear collectors salivating all over the world). I smile back. But I must admit to my eternal shame (and as an Irishman too) - I didn't know who they were or how much it was worth. Wanting to give the chap a fair price - I looked up the Price Guide at the time and saw it listed at £350 (this was at a time when even rarities barely pushed past £15). I closed the book with a blush and reached for the till drawer real quick.
Fast forward to 2014 and the Price Guide lists it a frankly stingy £2000. But if you try to actually purchase an original 1972 LP in its full-on hippy-artwork gatefold glory via eBay - regular sums in excess of £3500 are been achieved whenever it turns up for sale. Which brings me to this wonderful CD reissue released March 2008 in the UK on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2044 (Barcode 5013939714427) for a dirt bag price of £10 or less (Esoteric Recordings are part of Cherry Red Records). Now normally I'd find three and half grand for a single album a tad silly let alone swaddling - but as JON WRIGHT'S wonderfully informative and literate liner notes tell us this album is "...a conquering hero, garnering praise at every turn..." Here are heathen children and witchy details (42:43 minutes):
MELLOW CANDLE were:
Clodagh Simonds - Lead Vocals, Piano, Harpsichord
Alison Williams - Lead Vocals
David Williams - Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Vocals
Frank Boylan - Bass, Vocals
William A. Murray - Drums and Percussion
1. Heaven Heath
2. Sheep Season
4. The Poet And The Witch
5. Messenger Birds
6. Dan The Wing
7. Reverend Sisters [Side 2]
8. Break Your Token
9. Buy Or Beware
10. Vile Excesses
11. Lonely Man
12. Boulders On My Grave
Managed by Ted Carroll (of Ace Records fame) who had Thin Lizzy on his books at the time - they signed to Decca's Prog imprint label Deram in April 1971 - then promptly toured with Lindisfarne and Steeleye Span and Ireland's own Skid Row (featuring a very young Gary Moore on Guitar) and Horslips - crafting the material they needed for their first album as they went. Using producer DAVID HITCHCOCK - they recorded the album in London across December 1971 and January 1972 and it was released in April 1972 in the UK on Deram SDL 7 - even give the luxury of a gorgeously designed gatefold sleeve (all reproduced in the 16-page booklet). Despite Deram gamely putting out "Dan The Wing" b/w "Silversong" on a UK 7" single in February 1972 (Deram DM 357) two months before the album hit the shops - neither did any business of any kind - and both have become notoriously hard-to-find rarities ever since (there's even a promo-only picture sleeve for the 7" single that clocks in at £500). But it's because the 'music' is so good - that "Swaddling Songs" has garnished an almost unhealthy price tag.
Although they were Irish - this is neither Irish nor English Folk - but a hybrid of both with some Folk Rock thrown in. Heavily influenced by her musical hero Robin Williamson of England's Incredible String Band - Clodagh Simonds' songs dominate the album - she penned 3, 4 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12 and co-wrote 2. Not to be outshone - Alison Williams contributed "Heaven Heath" (1) and "Messenger Birds" (5) and along with David Williams co-wrote "Sheep Season" (2). Musically imagine the great album The Incredible String Band threatened to make circa 1971 but never did. Throw in Steeleye Span or Trees (a Folk Rock band fronted by women) - then think of quirkier arrangements and vocal flourishes to a point where both leading ladies come on like an early version of a two-headed Kate Bush. Then include harpsichords and lyrics about folklore and whimsy and witches and crazy herbs - and you get the gist. It's been called Acid Folk and/or Folk Rock and both are accurate.
It opens strongly with the dense "Heaven Heath" with its madrigal feel and lyrics like "timeless child to play" - the harpsichord underpinning everything with stunning effect. "Sheep Season" is genuinely beautiful - dreamy keys that lead to a guitar/flute battle at song's end that is fabulous on the ear. You can see why Deram thought the short and rapid paced "Dan The Wing" might catch on as a single - but for me the album's masterpiece is the eerily beautiful "Reverend Sisters" where the girls duet their vocals with the cascading piano notes thereby creating their very own Mellow Candle sound (lyrics from it title this review). Universal whetted many appetites by using the wild rhythms and vocal gobbledygook of "Boulders On My Grave" as a track sample on the 3CD "Legend Of A Mind" Underground Anthology Box Set in 2002. "Buy Or Beware" with its "wine and water" chorus is probably about as commercial as the album gets and could have been another single. "Lonely Man" is an impressive blues-based mid-tempo song with a Fairport Convention/Richard Thompson guitar throughout complimenting funky piano chops. "Messenger Birds" has Alison take lead vocals on her own song and sounding not unlike Beverley Martin on Island or Bridget St. John on John Peel's Dandelion Records. It's all rather lovely and grows on you with every listen...
With its picture CD aping the artwork, a truly beautiful PASCHAL BYRNE remaster from the original tapes and toppermost liner notes (with the lyrics too) - this is a classy reissue of a criminally forgotten LP. Mellow greetings to all at Esoteric Recordings for having the smarts to put it back out there - and in such quality style...a very nice one...
on 5 March 2010
This is one of those albums that I could have been swept away by at any point in the last 20 years, had I heard it. I had heard positive rumours about Swaddling Songs for a while, and now at long last, I have become one of those lucky people that have a copy. As another reviewer said, take note fans of The Trees and Kate Bush, because this one fits right in. In fact it feels like a link back to the early days of my love of the music of those artists, as if it was there all along, which is rather intriguing.
The first three tracks are my favourites: Heaven Heath with it's harpsichord and intricate tune; Sheep Season - which was my introduction to the band on Early Morning Hush - with it's gorgeous extended instrumental section; and the melancholy Silversong. The three of them are simply breathtaking examples of folk-rock, the singers captured by the stories they weave, they are brimming with the imagery and intrigue of bygone days, epic and elegant. Then the album picks up the pace and the girls really belt out the lyrics on the finest of the up-tempo tracks, the pounding, rampaging The Poet And The Witch, with its screaming gulls and shimmering crashes of cymbals like waves exploding on the cliffs. A highlight of the album, which comes in marked contrast to the tracks surrounding it, is the delicate, heartbreakingly beautiful Reverend Sisters. Buy Or Beware reminds me strongly of Fool by The Trees, but at the same it has quite a pop feel that takes it off in another direction. At the albums close they go out like a raging storm with Boulders On My Grave, this piece doesn't have the special magic of the best tracks on the album, and I do find myself wishing they'd ended with something more akin to Sheep Season, but this is a small complaint.
There are more than enough truly great songs on here to call it a classic, and it is good to see all the glowing reviews here and across the web. It deserves to be considered amongst the very finest albums of the genre. We can only wonder what might have been had Mellow Candle been given the chance to record more albums.
on 6 June 2011
So ... I've already got two different CD remasters, and I finally got around to picking up this Shm-CD ... a lucky moment where I got an absolute bargain.
Even though I have the right high-end kit to benefit from Shm-CDs, truth is I have generally found the alleged sound improvement somewhat theoretical. For example, I cannot tell the difference between the recent Joni Mitchell Shm-CDs and the relatively recent ordinary CD issues ... they're a great big waste of money in my opinion.
However, this Shm-CD is definitely worth picking up. The mastering is absolutely fantastic - as close to vinyl as I've ever heard. This definitely works to the benefit of Swaddling Song. Even though it's an absolute corker in any format - a psych-folk legend - the CDs I've got are frankly a tad over bright ... almost digitally brittle in places.
This version is much warmer but retains great separation (necessary for an album where the two vocalists are polarised left and right).
As for the music ... I challenge anyone to to listen to 'Boulders on my Grave' and not want to jump around the room, getting totally caught up in the whirlish energy. The musicianship, the songwriting, the production - everything melds. This is one of those rare albums that can legitimately be described as timeless - as surpassing the usual temporal constraints of commercial music. Perhaps that suggests it isn't really commercial at all, and certainly it's fate was to rapidly fade into obscurity for many years.
Whatever, if by commercial we mean great songs and stunning performances, I'd argue Swaddling Song should be required listening.
on 27 April 2007
A strong boast I know, but I've yet to hear anything better in the genre. You find other reissue albums being hailed as 'As good as Mellow Candle' but they're really not. This is in a league of its own. The rhythm section is inventive, complimenting rather than complicating the songs. The guitar breaks are equally tasteful. And the dual lead vocals by Alison and Clodagh will make you cry if you have anything resembling a soul. I hear new things everytime I play this album and I've been listening to it for around fifteen years, regrettably only on cd. Somebody please send me their unwanted original vinyl copy - it's only worth a couple of quid, honest.
on 7 February 2015
Since I heard this ten years ago, it's achieved a place in my all-time top ten rock-era albums. It's absolutely beautiful, and makes me sad to think that it was the only album they made. An Irish sister of Jethro Tull, Mellow Candle combine haunting female harmonies with superb musicianship, while their songs infuse the usual mytho-poetic fare of prog folk/rock with meditations on religion and nature. My only slight cavil is the running order, which seems to weight side one with the more pastoral tracks, saving the meatier stuff for side two, which gives it a slightly unbalanced feel on the CD. But that doesn't detract from the quality of the music at all, particularly Clodagh Simonds's piano playing which is sparkling and elegant. I'm puzzled that later CD remasters don't include the two tracks of the Napier-Bell produced single, with its naive charm; it makes a nice coda to a fantastic album, going out with a grin.
on 20 October 2008
Everything the other reviewers say about this extraordinary CD is true. Along with the work of Pearls Before Swine (who might almost be their chilled-out twins), this represents the very best of the strange "baroque folk" explosion of the early 1970s that is largely forgotten. Truly wonderful music.
on 13 April 2008
Folk that rocks as evidenced by the likes of Fairport, Trees, Steeleye was lifting nicely when this came out in 1972 - so it remains baffling as to why 'Swaddling Songs' didn't take off, too. With successful progressive/psych undercurrents, it is distinguished by a twin-female vocal attack of bite and first rate harmonising driven by twitchily baroque instrumentation. Perhaps it's the relative absence of metaphorical sunshine. Eschewing hippy 'hello skies, hello flowers' whimsy, the Dublin-based band's strong and original material dipped into pagan pastorality evoking more the blasted heath than the sun-kissed riverbank. Produced for Decca's progressive subsidiary Deram by David Hitchock, this died a death on release and snuffed out Mellow Candle. Hindsight rightly favours it as one of the finest of the genre. Bring matches.