Steve Ashley

Stroll On

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Upon release, Steve Ashley's debut album was rated The Sunday Telegraph's folk album of the year, and even landed its maker a U.S. deal with Motown, which released it to wild acclaim in America in 1975. Across the board, Ashley seemed set for a powerful career. Instead, he all but vanished, releasing new albums with infuriating irregularity and condemning Stroll On to a "lost treasure" status that wholly undervalues its importance. Stroll On was originally recorded in 1971 (Ashley suffered some 30 rejections before Gull finally picked it up), but the timelessness of its contents barely registered the delay. The sparse accompaniment of a band built around drummer Dave Mattacks, but diversifying to encompass tablas, concertina, pedal steel (the redoubtable B.J. Cole), fretless bass, and, on one occasion, the Albion Band, offers an exquisite backdrop to Ashley's thoughtful, almost foreboding voice, yet is happy to remain subservient to it. The monastic chant that opens "Fire and Wine," for example, remains in the ears long after the musicians kick in with chiming electric riffery, while "Candlemas Carol" echoes with the midwinter chill that this ancient festival once guarded against, no matter how warm Robert Kirby's recorders grow. Much of the album seems to concern the seasons -- the grip of deep winter, the fleeting joys of summer -- and this, too, contributes to the album's mood, not because talking about the weather is such a popular occupation, but because the moods induced by the changing seasons truly are eternal. And it does listeners good to be reminded of that sometimes.

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