Compiled and annotated by Steve Ashley himself, The Test of Time compiles 17 tracks from throughout Ashley's career -- infuriatingly sporadic though it has been. Three songs apiece from the albums Stroll On (1974), Speedy Return (1975), The Family Album (1982), and Mysterious Ways (1990, but incorporating material originally scheduled for release in 1978) are joined by three more only ever available on a couple of only-briefly available Demo Tapes cassettes, and two songs taped in 1998. What's remarkable is, neither the passing of time nor the cloak of obscurity have diminished Ashley's powers in the slightest. The listener comes out of the closing "Over There in Paradise" as breathlessly as he or she entered the opening "Fire and Wine," with its haunting monk song introduction, and a flaming rock band aching to escape. Some remarkable collaborations are unearthed. Ashley's links with Fairport Convention, Ashley Hutchings, and Robert Kirkby were all illustrated by his debut album, and these links continue throughout the collection. But there is also a rare appearance from Linda Thompson, duetting with Ashley on 1983's "Easy Come." Indeed, each of the early-'80s Demo Tapes tracks are remarkable, all the more so since the original cassettes have long lain unheard. Both "Easy Come" and the chiming "Before the Fireballs Fall" ache with the embittered defiance of the anti-nukes movement that led to the resurrection of Britain's long-fallow CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), while "I Depend on Jesus" is Ashley's attempt to reaffirm his religious beliefs, at a time when Christianity itself seemed in real danger of being hijacked by the warmongers of the extreme political right. Of course, even the best conceived compilation is no substitute for full reissues of each of Ashley's albums, and the restoration of his name to the highest annals of British folk history. For anybody uncertain where to begin approaching this canon, however, Test of Time solves all dilemmas.
AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson