I've enjoyed most of Steeleye Span's post 1970s output (Including their Maddy-less period) but always felt it was a bit too 'light'.
I'm not a fan of Mr Pratchett, so I wasn't overly excited about a concept album based on his work. However, this is probably the best Steeleye Span album for years, possibly since the 1970s. The general sound is much more like the epic 1970s material (Thomas the Rhymer, Long Lankin, etc) on tracks like "Fire & Ice". The playing is good, the band is tight, and the vocals are excellent. Peter Knight is stunning throughout, and there's an energy that's been missing in Steeleye Span for some time. The 'concept' doesn't get in the way, so don't let that put you off! This album most certainly puts the rock back into folk!
on 7 December 2013
One of Steeleye Spann's greatest. They have trappped the mood, myth and magic of the book and indeed of this early winter season. The Dark Morris in insidious and plays around your mind as you walk in the bitter wind and I love the Band of Teachers.
Maddy's voice is still pure and lovely, almost as though we were back in hte 1970's - weren't we young then??
on 29 October 2013
A concept album in the 21st century? Yep, it can be done.
Several standout songs: "Dark Morris", "I Shall Wear Midnight" and "Ancient Eyes" are at the second listen already favourites. The core of Prior, Knight and Kemp make it obviously Steeleye with Zorn, Littman, Genockey adding a welcome dynamic that drives things along at a pace and adds a depth to the sound thats distinct from other Steeleye offerings.
It would have been nice to hear more of Knights playing - they tried out a few tracks on the last tour and the violin was higher up the mix and had a searing edge which was missing from the album, but it will make this Winter's tour worth waiting for.
on 6 December 2013
Being given a strong story line from which to develop their musical ideas has been a brilliant move for Steeleye Span. Pratchett's obvious fondness for their work means he & they have a strong affinity, and the band's style is a perfect match for the atmosphere Pratchett generates in his books. The tracks are consistency excellent both in lyrical and melodic terms, and I am not at all surprised that it has been driven into the Top 100 purely by word of mouth or viral spread of the news about the excellence of this album. If you like folk music and you quite like fantasy you will love this! The whole album is going onto my playlists for use in the car, and that is no mean tribute as I am quite selective and usually pick 2 or 3 tracks per album.
on 14 November 2013
I bought this because of my lifelong (well, nearly) love of TP's books and the characters he created; I've heard of Steeleye Span and knew they were some sort of folk band, having as a child come across them in my dad's record collection, but was not really familiar with their music.
I've played the album a few times now whilst pottering about the house and it has really grown on me - I wasn't too sure about it on first listen, but always like to give new music a fair chance before deciding I don't like it. And this is why. "Wintersmith" is a grower; the melodies work themselves into your consciousness, and elements that jarred at first soften.
Stand-out tracks for me are "The Dark Morris", evoking perfectly one of TP's most memorable ideas in a sinister stomp redolent of ancient forests and primal magic; "You", a beguiling and melodic song which persuaded me (via Youtube) to buy the album when I was dithering over it; "The Summer Lady", ethereal and sweet; "Crown & Ice", which I feel has an almost campy element to it, somehow - it made me think of David Bowie as the Goblin King! - and, of course, the final track, "I Shall Wear Midnight", which is drenched in beauty, poignancy, regret, hope and love, and is alone well worth the purchase price.
An excellent buy, and I'd recommend it!
on 5 December 2013
Like many others, I have followed Steeleye since the 70's, but had found their recent offerings rather tepid - but this album is a stunning return to form. Like many, I was very unsure whether a concept album would work - but it does - and you can tell the affinity the band has for Mr Pratchetts work. The more rocky numbers are extremely well produced and pack a surprising punch, Maddy's vocals have much more light and shade than I have heard in many years and demonstrate why she is still considered one of our greatest female vocalists.
The electric guitar on this album is exceptional, reminding us of the days of Bob Johnson. My favourite track is Crown of Ice, followed closely by We shall wear midnight. Actually there are no duff tracks, hence the 5 stars. If you like Steeleye, buy this album!
on 28 October 2013
As a lifelong Steeleye Span fan I have looked forward to this album. The first studio album in four years, and in the new formation with Julian Littman and Peter Zorn. These men already proved their skills on the life album 'Now We Are Six Again', which was released two years ago.
I received the Wintersmith album on Friday 25 October and I have played it many times over the last few days. The first impression was overwhealming. The more I listen to the album the more I like it. The music sounds great and is very energetic and varied. Maddy Prior is sounding as good as ever and newcomer Julian Littman turns out to be a very good singer as well, as he proves on the fourth track 'You'. Peter Zorn gives Steeleye Span a new sound by playing Sax on a few tracks, like 'We Shall Wear Midnight'. We have not heard sax on Steeleye albums since 1974, when Dave Bowie made a guest appearance on 'Now We Are Six'.
Good wine gets better with the years, and so does Steeleye Span! This album is stunning from the first track to the last and worth every penny.
Apart from the opening track 'Overture' and the following, very strong and powerful 'Dark Morris Song', I especially like the second part of the album with 'The Making of a Man', written and sung by Peter Knight and with Maddy Prior in wonderful shape on 'First Dance' and the haunting 'Ancient Eyes', written by Bob Johnson.
The final track, 'We Shall Wear Midnight', again written and sung by Peter Knight is a really beautiful song, reminding me of 'The Song Will Remain', on the 'Time' album, or 'What's the Life of a Man' on 'They Called Her Babylon'.
This is, without a doubt, the best, the strongest and most solid album Steeleye Span has produced in many, many years, More than one hour of great music! Go out and buy it! ... You will not be disappointed!
on 3 November 2013
When first listening to this album I was a little underwhelmed by it. Not being a Steeleye Span fan I bought this solely for the Terry Pratchett/Discworld connection. However, curiosity led me to read the lyrics and the final song's lyrics leapt out at me and I had to hear that song, and as such I persisted with the album. The songs are, for me, a mixed bunch. The first half of the album is, for a non-Steeleye fan, ok but not great. But the album gets better as it goes along and 'Crown & Ice' is a wondrous song and with 'Making of a Man' marks the album's upswing on quality. The final track 'We Shall Wear Midnight' is a truly haunting take on mortality of both a fictional character and its author. The 'Tiffany Aching' books are a superb addition to the Discworld canon and aimed at a younger audience, and as such, Tiffany is shown growing up as the books progress and the target audience mature themselves. With Terry Pratchett's well documented illness though, Tiffany may well never reach maturity in the books and the song makes you realise that one day Terry will write his last words of fiction and with his death die all of his wondrous characters. That one song alone makes the album worth buying, one song of utter brilliance and beauty.
Steeleye fans will love this album no doubt, but Discworld fans may take time to warm to it, but give it a few listens and keep an open mind.
on 4 November 2013
Steeleye Span branch out on this album, which sets to music episodes from Terry Pratchett's series of Tiffany Aching books. You do not have to be familiar with the source novels to enjoy this, the songs all stand on their own merits. I know that other reviewers have made this point, but I think it is important and just wanted to reiterate it.
Wintersmith finds Steeleye in fine form. Maddy Prior sings as well as ever, Peter Knight's playing is superb, and the bass'n'drums of Rick Kemp and Liam Genocky sound even better than before. Julian Littman shows himself to be not only an excellent guitarist, but also a fine songwriter. He contributes three of my favourite tracks on the album. "The Dark Morris" really rocks, "You" is a lovely bittersweet love song, and "The Summer Lady" has a classic traditional theme, the celebration of the arrival of Summer. Pete Zorn adds to the breadth of Steeleye's sound with his acoustic guitar and sax playing. Hopefully on any future recordings he will also add his flute as well.
The feel of Wintersmith is also augmented by guests John Boden on melodeon and Kathryn Tickell, whose Northumbrian pipes add to the atmosphere on several tracks. The icing on the cake though, is the inclusion of two fine songs by the band's former guitarist Bob Johnson, "The Wee Free Men" and "Ancient Eyes". It's good to see him contributing to Steeleye again. Lyrically, Peter Knight's "We Shall Wear Midnight" is the strongest track on the album. In this, Tiffany Aching asks Terry Pratchett to write her a happy ending, and contemplates her own, and his, mortality. It's a song that is both poignant and powerful.
Steeleye sound great on this album. There are some powerful rockers, and even the gentler ballads have an edge to them that hasn't always been there before. To sum up, Wintersmith is everything a Steeleye Span album should be.
on 19 December 2013
Very slow off the mark here and preceded by 47 reviews, I decided to live with the new album for a while and see the band performing some of it during Peter Knight's final tour with them.
"Wintersmith" works well and you don't need to be familiar with Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" books to appreciate it.
I felt that for a while, Steeleye albums (excluding the excellent " Cogs Wheels and Lovers"), became less homogenous than in former days, but this is a " band album" and the songs really fit together well as they relate the story of the Winter smith's attempts to conquer and rule. Lots of dark and shade contrasting with warmth and light and happily the good wins...because no matter what we're made of, if we don't have "strength enough to build a home, time enough to hold a child or love enough to break a heart"(The Making of a Man") we will be forever dancing " The Dark Morris".
Peter Knight's songs are gentle and poignant,with "We shall wear Midnight"surely a fitting epitaph to his 40 and further years with Steeleye. Else where, Maddy provides the fabulous (and funny) "Band of Teachers"which gives way to Bob Johnson's first of two songs. Although just a "guest writer", his vocals can be heard on "Wee Free Men", a great song which includes a lively burst of " The flowers of Edinburgh". As ever, Rick Kemp delivers the dark and threatening, here to be found in the title track and "Crown of Ice" (performed on the Nov/Dec 2013 tour) while latest band member Julian Littman, who has a very interesting and varied background, offers two excellent songs: "You" and the uplifting "Summer lady" demonstrating what a fine singer and lead guitarist he is.
The album seems to be selling better than any Steeleye album since 1976's " Rocket cottage" which for a band at this stage in their career is quite special.
It is sad that Peter has chosen to leave the band at such a successful time, but as he has more freedom to develop his own projects including the wonderful "Gigspanner", we would hope that rather than call it a day, the band will regroup and capitalise on their current strengths.
Of course, we all want that " bus" to keep on travelling, but whatever Steeleye Span should decide to do, their efforts with "Wintersmith" have paid off and they should be justly proud.