Steamhammer

MK II

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The second version of the British combo Steamhammer released its first LP utilizing the talents of Steve Davy (bass), Martin Pugh (guitars), and Kieran White (vocals/guitar/harmonica/Jew's harp) from the original band as well as new recruits Steve Jolliffe (woodwind/brass/harpsichord/vocals) and Mick Bradley (drums). It was the blues that initially drove the combo on its debut long-player, Reflection (1969), likewise known as Junior's Wailing. This lineup adds more exploratory and intricate melodies, courtesy of the multi-instrumental talents and sonic sculpting of future Tangerine Dream member Jolliffe. While this version of the band would not remain past this album, its unique fusion would arguably peak on Mountains (1970), the follow-up to MK II (1969). There are definite shapes of things to come throughout this effort, thanks to the aggressive interaction of the new recruits. They immediately step up to the plate, providing a variety of interesting melodic and instrumental textures. These range from the full-speed gallop of Jolliffe's "Johnny Carl Morton" or the Baroque waltz "Turn Around" -- both of which are punctuated by some prominent harpsichord interjections reminiscent of other U.K. progressive groups such as Family and Blossom Toes.

Pugh's guitar work is another of the band's conspicuous assets, as he is able to fluidly waft between the acoustic romanticism of the diminutive "Sunset Chase" to the bluesy and tongue-in-cheek "Contemporary Chick Con Song." The latter track includes a stretched-out instrumental jam that captures Pugh's criminally underrated electric fretwork. Steamhammer's various and seemingly disparate musical elements coalesce on the manic "6/8 for Amiran." They blend the complexities inherent in the time signature with a tightly executed and churning blues -- much in the same way that early Jethro Tull was able to do on sides such as "Nothing Is Easy" or "For Our Mothers." The second side consists of a suite containing "Down Along the Grove," "Another Travelling Tune," and "Fran and Dee Take a Ride." This 16-plus minute epic allows Steamhammer to improvise and stretch out. The open structure makes room for the various musical styles to be thoroughly explored with more intricacy than a majority of the three- and four-minute tunes. The double lead electric guitars, courtesy of the song's co-authors, Pugh and White, blend well with Jolliffe's jazzy sax and flute improvisations. Enthusiasts are encouraged not only to seek this platter, but the Mountains (1970) follow-up as well.

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