Steeleye Span & Maddy Prior,
A Rare Collection 1972-1996
(Raven Records, 1999)

Are you a fan of Steeleye Span, the pioneering English electric-folk band that until recently featured Maddy Prior's astounding vocals -- you know, the voice that can tell a story just with its change of tone? Did you miss hearing Steeleye's 1973 Christmas greetings? Do you want to hear more live Steeleye Span than what's on Live at Last (1978) and Tonight's the Night (1992)? Then seek out this 1999 Australian release, complete with CD booklet notes by former Steeleye drummer, Nigel Pegrum.

The booklet alone is worth the price of admission. It contains rare photos from the '70s and '80s, along with Pegrum's personal comments (including his mention that their 45-minute opening set for Jethro Tull was cut to 20 minutes because Steeleye was doing so well).

The CD itself contains 20 tracks, including seven live songs (mostly from Australian shows); two B-sides, a rare full-length studio version of "Thomas the Rhymer" (released previously only on the vinyl compilation, Original Masters, but replaced with the shorter version on its CD release); the U.S. singles of "Rag Doll" and "Rave On," solo pieces by Maddy Prior (some with Rick Kemp, former Steeleye bassist and her husband), along with Prior performing with other groups, such as Status Quo's rendition of "All Around My Hat"; and the original "Gaudete" single (proving that Latin songs can climb to the Top of the Pops).

Fans will enjoy hearing Steeleye's 1973 "The Holly and Ivy," including Christmas greetings (with a lot of laughter and some joking at guitarist and vocalist Tim Hart's expense), originally released as the B-side to "Gaudete." "Stookey," a 1978 British children's television theme song, written and performed by Prior and Kemp, is yet another collector's item.

A Rare Collection clearly is aimed at an Australian audience. Most of the live pieces are from Australian shows and soundchecks, and Warren Barnett's notes on the songs discuss how "Australia has always held a special place in Steeleye's career." Pegrum, who asserts that his memories of Steeleye are all good ones, states that he left the band when his homesick wife wished to return to Cairns. Steeleye fans throughout the world, however, will be interested in hearing these tidbits from Australian concerts. The beautiful yet sad traditional song, "I Live Not Where I Love," originally recorded in the studio not by Steeleye, but by Prior and Hart for their 1971 Summer Solstice album, is one of the live offerings.

Is this CD a good introduction for newcomers to Steeleye? Probably not. There are other compilations (Original Masters and Spanning the Years come to mind) that show off more of the band's overall finesse first with traditional English and Scottish material and later with their own compositions. Avid Steeleye fans, however, need to add this release to their collections.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]

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