Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Steeleye Span Story: Original Masters

I still listen to vinyl record albums, though not as much as I would like. We bought a new turntable about five years ago, so the old records sound really sharp and clear. My problem is that I find it difficult at times to sit in the living room without popping up to do a chore or answer the phone or play with the cat, usually chasing her all around the house. I am sometimes able to sit through the side of one album – about twenty minutes worth of sitting.

Few libraries stock any vinyl record albums anymore, so listeners must have their own collections. Only the big libraries had very good collections in the old days, as the records were big and bulky, especially in the plastic cases that many libraries used to circulate them, and they were easily scratched. When I was working for the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia, Missouri, many of the albums were missing, until several hundred were found by police in the home of a thief.

For years my record collection shrank, as I discarded albums that were scratched or no longer appealed to me. Now, however, I am again acquiring albums, as others donate their collections to the Western Springs Library Friends fundraising sales. At each sale I find something wonderful, like Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse, the comic An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer, or a pristine copy of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. To my surprise my daughter has repeatedly listened to a four album set of Billie Holiday recordings that I got from the Friends. I am going to need to find more shelving soon.

Lately, I have been listening to The Steeleye Span Story: Original Masters. Steeleye Span was a 1970s folk/rock group from England that took traditional British, Scottish, and Irish folksongs and electrified them. Some critics denounced them for modernizing the old songs, but many younger listeners enjoyed the change. I was happy to find the album to hear again “One Misty Moisty Morning,” which is a bouncy, cheerful song good for a cloudy day. I also remembered the great ringing guitar parts in “Alison Gross,” a song about a witch; Maddy Prior’s voice reminds me of Grace Slick’s work on the early Jefferson Airplane albums. The most haunting piece in the collection is “Gaudete,” a Latin hymn, which the group sang without instruments. I also like the album jacket, which has small art reproductions inside the fold.

Library friends fundraising sales season is again approaching. All over the Chicago suburbs there will be sales in March, April, and May. I recommend them.

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