Most Steeleye Span compilations are budget-priced collections that cover only a fraction of this long-lived and prolific band's enormous output. 1995's SPANNING THE YEARS is definitely not one of these. This two-disc, 35-track collection covers all of the British folk-rock collective's studio releases from 1970's HARK! THE VILLAGE WAIT to 1989's TEMPTED AND TRIED, along with a generous sampling of previously-released live tracks.
Even this expansive selection isn't enough to do more than hit the highest points--almost all of Steeleye Span's albums are classics of British folk-rock. But the well-chosen list of songs provides a balanced overview of the band's many strengths, from the angelic harmonies of Maddy Prior and Tim Hart and the sterling fiddle playing of Peter Knight to the important contributions of such occasional bandmembers as Ashley Hutchings, Martin Carthy and Gay Woods. There are no rarities or previously-unreleased tracks, but this is a near-perfect introduction these icons of folk-rock.
The British folk-rock scene of the sixties, though much smaller than its American counterpart, produced a few stars. The first real success came via Liege and Lief, an album by Fairport Convention, a group that launched the careers of several major figures on the British folk-rock scene. Sandy Denny was an excellent singer often acclaimed as the queen of British folk-rock, though Maddy Prior (who describes Sandy as both inspiring and infuriating) also has legitimate claims to that title. Richard Thompson continued to make excellent music after Fairport Convention disbanded. Ashley Hutchins quit Fairport Convention because he didn't like the direction the group was heading. He became one of the founding members of Steeleye Span, a group that has seen many line-up changes through the years but Maddy remained throughout. This helps to explain the diversity of music here, some very close to traditional English and Irish folk but some more like pop-rock music. Even so, Maddy's love of traditional folk ensures that all but the die-hard traditionalists should find plenty to enjoy here.
To the wider public, there are only a few familiar songs. All around my hat was a huge UK pop hit. Gaudete, a Christmas song, regularly turns up on Christmas compilations. There are also covers of Rag doll (Four seasons), Rave on (Buddy Holly) and To know him is to love him (Teddy bears, later a hit for Peter and Gordon, also covered by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou for their first Trio album). Of the other songs, some are traditional and some are original but none are well known outside folk circles.
This comprehensive collection covers Steeleye Span's music from 1970 to 1992. Original released as a full price compilation, it was later re-released at a much lower price and is now a real bargain, still available in the UK as I write. Traditionalists may prefer to buy the original albums from the early part of their career, but if (like me) you want a collection that captures the full range of their music, this is the one to go for.
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