30 Rork Around The World July 1977

   New Folks   


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.


Included in Island’s latest Antilles release is June Tabor’s debut solo album, Airs and Graces (AN 7043). It’s quite different from the exuberant Silly Sisters, much more somber. June generally performs strictly acapella and that’s what she did here. This is then, an album mainly for serious aficianados of English folk, as it can be a bit difficult for those not initiated.

Also of interest to Anglo-folkophiles in the new Antilles release are the Albion Country Band’s Battle of the Field (AN 7027), Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick’s Selections (AN 7041), the City Waites’ A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions (AN 7039), Nick Drake’s Bryter Later (AN 7028), and Gay & Terry Woods’ The Time is Right (AN 7029).

Recently released in Britain was Spriguns’ debut, Revel Weird and Wild (Decca SKL 5262), produced by Tim Hart. It’s a more gentle electric folk album, with a few punchy spots here and there. A cute track is “Lady Worm,” the tale of a boy and a girl transformed to a laily worm and mackerel respectively, by their father’s wicked second wife. Lead vocalist Mandy Morton sounds especially bewitching on this one. By the way, it seems that the electric folk changing personnel disease has already struck Spriguns. Since this album was recorded, two members have left and been replaced and what this has done to their sound I can’t say until the next record comes out (or I get a trip to London).

Another fine debut album is Ys’ Madame La Frontiere on French Phillips (9101 056). The band members were previously with Alan Stivell and it shows. The music is punchier than Stivell’s, but is fairly similar, though with a bit of medieval colouring here and there.

Some “new folks” have been active on this side of the water also. Two albums recently issued by Capitol will interest those who appreciate American roots music. James Talley’s Black-jack Choir and Asleep at the Wheel’s Wheels. The latter contains mostly original material, and is much jazzier than the band’s previous albums. Talley’s record has a strong western swing feeling throughout, as that’s the music he grew up with. His lyrics are evocative of this country, as he says, Blackjack Choir is just another step in his American chronicle.

Lastly, some superb picking is on Leo Kottke (Chrysalis CHR 1106), an album that demonstrates that Kottke has listened to, and been influenced by almost every type of music from medieval dances to modern country-western.

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brother) on the way back through the Midwest, and the West Palm gig showed the two drummers aren’t yet used to each other. They’ve got some work yet to do.

* * • * * * * * * *

After wearing out my initial copy of Dickey Betts and Great Southern, and after seeing two live gigs—one good, another poor—in different types of venues on opposite coasts, it’s my impression that the band is very rough, but not lacking potential.

The album was done in six weeks, mostly live with a very few overdubs, but Betts and a young band of unseasoned players. The band had been together for two months before it went into the studio. In that context, the album is surprisingly good, but one gets the feeling that Dickey’s songs could have been more fully realized.

Live performances of Betts’ new material (actually written for the Brothers, but the split came before anything was in the can) by Great Southern is a lot tighter than their relatively sloppy (so far) treatment of less familiar (to them) classic Betts tunes. Dickey needs

a solid, almost autonomous rhythm section that can keep the band on the ground while he and his Paul take a flight. On older tunes, he has to spend too much time orchestrating Great Southern’s rhythm section from first guitar position.

Okay, so it’s a young band. The question is this: can Dickey afford to let his band continue to rehearse those tunes onstage, chancing that they’ll screw up an audience’s fond memories of the same tunes performed with superior creative precision by the Allmans? As one of the world’s most respected guitarists, should he be satisfied with a band that doesn’t yet have the chops, if you’ll pardon the expression, to match this?

Dickey obviously sees potential in Great Southern enough to keep them on while they play catch-up. He wouldn’t have hired them. Yet he concedes that keyboardist Tom Broome “is not a strong soloist,” while “Dangerous Dan” is good enough to goose Betts and get away with it.

As it’s turned out, the public demand for Betts and Great Southern, which essentially remained on hold

waiting for the album, has snowballed in proportion with the album’s increasingly heavy airplay. Manager Steve Massarsky showed me an itinerary stretching to the end of July, and that was three or four weeks ago. It looks as though Dickey Betts has a constituency loyal enough to support his directions.

Satisfied that he’s through the period of indescision, and satisfied with Clive Davis’ and Arista’s support, it’s my view that now might be an opportune time for Dickey to get the hell off the road (“he’s lost pounds since we left!” Paulette had halfway joked) for a rest back home near Sarasota. He’s building a studio at his new place there, and when that’s done woodshedding with the band would be logistically possible.

He woodshedded with the Allman Brothers, and those guys were incredibly tight by the time they hit their first stage. In any case, it’s Dickey’s decision. His moves in the next few months will be very important, and he knows it. Meanwhile, I’ve got to score a replacement for my first

Betts and Great Southern album, and it won’t be the last time I replace it, either. ■