Talking Elephant 2021
Venerated stalwart of British folk rock takes up the hardest task of cherry-picking one of his ensemble’s best moments and serves up the delicious mélange of reels, jigs and other irresistible dances.
Those who follow the twisted, yet finely mapped-out, path which Peter Knight has been on for more than five decades must find a lot of delight digging this disc’s title and digging into the rich vein of melodies concealed inside. Spanning the period from 2009 when “Lipreading The Poet” was released to 2017 when “The Wife Of Urban Law” saw the light of day – hence the title – GIGSPANNER’s first proper compilation creates, conceptually not chronologically, a fresh context for a string of familiar tunes. Familiar on many a level, as they’re as well-loved as any traditional offering but also known from the veteran violinist’s earlier records including a STEELEYE SPAN album where he originally preserved the perennial “Si Bheag, Si Mhor” for posterity.
Here it fares rather differently, though – much softer, caressed with a strum, if possessed by chamber charms befitting a piece played by a classically trained musician, and the same restrained adventurousness is filling the grandeur of opener “She Moved Through The Fair” that seems forlorn and dry in the beginning only to display a groove, gain the pace and give aural space a brisk motion towards the end. Still, once the instrumental assault has stopped, the honeyed vocal harmonies take over and shine against the shadowy backdrop of “Bold Riley” before a fat, tangible line from Knight’s fiddle and tense beat grant the song a cinematic gloom and ebb away to let electricity lead “The Blackbird” to a meadow for a bout of graceful rock. This would be the ideal, idyllic place for a concert version of “The Butterfly” to flutter, soaring off Peter’s bow and trying to reach celestial realm – getting there slowly and plaintively but surely and magnificently via mesmeric Bartók-esque motifs.
However, the prog-tinged passages in “Bows Of London” have a pure English air to it, what with the number’s sparsely warm approach to storytelling and sonic landscaping, while “Urban’s Reel” comes across as sweet and hot as any acoustic swirl should feel, having relocated in the company of wooden percussion from verdant countryside to concrete jungle. Yet the epic “Death & The Lady” emerges as an ultimate example of the artist’s unprecedented mastery of arrangement, building tension not by illustrating lyrics with various sounds but by weaving almost invisible threads into what will be revealed as an arresting, riff-rippled tapestry. So if the filigree of “Hard Times Of Old England” – another echo of Peter’s past – brings this record to a close in a poignant manner, there’s hope and triumph in there suggesting the hard times are over, and Knight is ready to celebrate and serenade a new dawn. He’s a national treasure, after all.