They Called Her Babylon

Steeleye Span

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They Called Her Babylon Review

by James Christopher Monger

They Called Her Babylon marks the return of longtime vocalist Maddy Prior to the fold, resulting in Steeleye Span's most cohesive offering since 1989's Tempted and Tried. No offense to the talented Gay Woods, but Steeleye Span is like a ghost ship without Prior at the wheel, and the newly minted five piece have finally regained the confidence and grand scope that graced their lucrative mid-'70s heydays. Opening with the cautionary poaching tale "Van Dieman's Land," Prior delights in the reunion, offering up a commanding vocal that in turn offers original members Peter Knight and Rick Kemp, as well as relative newcomers Ken Nicol and Liam Genockey, a rousing call to arms. Steeleye have always been masters of adaptation, and Nicol's lush title cut, Prior's "Heir of Linne," and even "Samain," Kemp's rousing ode to pre-Christian Halloween, which takes a very Spinal Tap subject and infuses it with mischievous yet reverent fun, are spitfire examples of their bottomless well of creativity. They Called Her Babylon loses steam near midway, due to some meandering instrumentals -- "Si Begh Si Mohr" -- and long-winded misfires -- the nearly eight-minute "Diversus and Lazarus" -- but even those tracks fare far better than the ones on 1999's torrid Horkstow Grange. In fact, if it weren't for the lethargic second half, TCHB might have become a fan favorite along the lines of Storm Force Ten or Rocket Cottage, but even near the end of the warm and beautiful closer, "What's a Life of a Man," where it descends into a stadium power ballad complete with a Neal Schon-infused guitar solo, the listener can't help but smile at these generous and endlessly experimenting group of veteran folk rockers.

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