Steeleye Span

Below the Salt

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The most successful of all Steeleye Span lineups, with Bob Johnson and Rick Kemp in place of Martin Carthy and Ashley Hutchings, makes its debut on what could be their best album. There's not a weak note here, and all of its has a harder, more muscular sound courtesy of Kemp and Johnson, matched to impeccable vocals and uniformly excellent material. Kemp's bass playing makes it possible to overlook the absence of a drummer, while the match-up of Johnson and Hart made them one of the best electric guitar teams in English folk-rock (and helps explain Steeleye's successful eclipsing of the post-Richard Thompson Fairport Convention). Prior's voice was never better than on this album, and while Carthy's backing vocals are missed, the group's singing is still up to a very high standard, with "Rosebud in June" perhaps the best a cappella number in their repertory and "Royal Forester" their most charmingly lusty performance. "John Barleycorn" -- which every Traffic fan should hear -- is in a class by itself, and the dazzling "Gaudete" actually made the British charts and got Steeleye Span onto Top of the Pops.

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