Steve Ashley

Stroll on Revisited

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A CD reissue for Steve Ashley's debut album was long overdue by the time U.K. folk specialists Market Square got around to unveiling its 1999 remaster. What is especially attractive about this set, however, isn't merely the presence of three superlative bonus tracks, but also the chance for listener and early Ashley champion Karl Dallas alike to experience again an album that has long occupied a special place in the hearts of all true English folk aficionados. The liner notes' reappraisal of Dallas' early love of this record sees him maintain his 25-year-old assertion that the opening "Fire and Wine" constitutes a life-changing experience; other listeners, however, will delight in thrilling (and chilling) once again to "The Ghost of Christmas Past," a song scheduled for the original LP release, but ultimately held over for inclusion, instead, on the landmark Electric Muse folk-rock box set. There, as much as elsewhere on this remarkable album, Ashley's ability to conjure dark mists from passing fancies leaps out at you -- the lyrics themselves are quite comically inclined, but are delivered with a tone that renders even "the cheeky headscarf thief" a being of dark supernatural awe. Also welcome aboard for the first time is "Old Rock 'n' Roll," a 1974 single cut with the latest incarnation of Fairport Convention, and bolstered by Lea Nicholson's rolling concertina. It's a magnificent performance, halfway between a wild sea shanty and a broken-hearted lament, whose presence offers an excellent link between the older (1971) sessions that comprise the original Stroll On album, and those that would constitute 1975's so-ironically titled Speedy Return.

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