Steeleye Span’s Maddy Prior got the itch to do a solo album late in 1975. The eventual result of that itch was Silly Sisters (Chrysalis CHR 1101) released in the U.K. early last year and just last month was issued Stateside. For Maddy, this album was a return to her traditional folk roots, as it contains only traditional material performed with either acoustic back-up or none at alL
Silly Sisters was one of the best records issued last year in any category, and it’s encouraging to see it released here finally. Prior and Tabor’s voices complement each other perfectly, with Maddy taking the high parts and June the lower, making for some exquisite harmonies. Each does several tunes on her own as well.
Accompanying Prior and Tabor was an all star cast of British and Irish folk musicians including Martin Carthy, Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan, Nic Jones and others. Some of these gentlemen accompanied the two ladies on a short, but well received English tour.
On an album as excellent as this one, it’s usually difficult to pick out superior tracks. However, “Silver Whistle,” the closing tune on side one is truly stunning. A description can tell something of what it sounds like, but to be truly appreciated, it must be heard. Maddy Prior sings the first line of each verse, with Ms. Tabor coming in on the next two. June sings the melody of the last line, while Maddy adds a sweeping background vocal to definitely haunting effect. The last line sung is in Maddy’s most ethereal voice, and gives the effect of a far-off echo (of a silver whistle). The track ends with an instrumental composition by Johnny Moynihan featuring himself on whistles.
Incidentally, those who love English folk ballads for their bawdiness will not be disappointed here. Several of the songs vividly describe age-old problems between men and women, and at that, in a somewhat humorous manner.
Some have speculated as to whether this album might indicate any changes in Steeleye Span’s approach. Their latest records have been much peppier than earlier ones, and there are those who feel a return to the roots is in order. Since the band probably won’t be recording ’til later in the year, we won’t know for a while.
Nevertheless, the Silly Sisters 1p is of the highest quality and if it does as well as it should, perhaps Maddy and June will come stateside for a tour. They will find many eager fans awaiting if they do.