Steeleye Span

Sails of Silver

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The first of Steeleye Span's many comebacks, Sails of Silver restores the classic lineup from their mid-'70s pinnacle. After not appearing on Storm Force 10 and Live at Last, guitarist Bob Johnson and multi-instrumentalist Peter Knight unseat their onetime replacements, Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick. The result is a surprisingly well-crafted yet largely overlooked album. In 1980, re-formed '60s and '70s bands of marginal renown did not receive the headlines -- the new rebellious and controversial acts did. At the urging of producer Gus Dudgeon, Steeleye Span wrote all of the songs on this album, the first release that didn't include several if not solely traditional numbers. After a decade of reconstructing English and Irish folk songs, something must have taken hold of this band; several selections -- including "Sails of Silver," "Barnet Fair," "Let Her Go Down," and "Longbone" -- definitely possess a traditional feel, both in melody and lyric. Expectedly, this album wouldn't compete directly with the fashionable and tiresome music trends of 1980, but it was also a grossly underrated album that, in retrospect, proves to be a key release in the history of this storied band -- particularly when considering all of the transformations they subsequently underwent. [The 1997 Park Records reissue contains live takes of "Thomas the Rhymer," "My Johnny," and "The Lark in the Morning," culled from concert dates circa 1996 and 1997.]

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