A Review of the Maddy Prior CD
"Arthur The King"

"Arthur The King"
by Maddy Prior

Park Records PRKCD58

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 6/05

Okay. If you put a gun to my head, I will tell you my two favourite female singers. Maria Callas and Kathleen Ferrier.

And what have they got to do with Maddy Prior and folk music? Nothing. And yet everything. Here's why.

Both the aforementioned have their imitators. Clearly Romanian Angela Gheorgiu grew up with an armful of Callas albums, and Janet Baker in her lower register is redolent of Ferrier at her greatest.

But Maddy Prior has a unique voice with its own DNA stamped through it like as though it was a big rock candy MAYPOLE. And that very fact ­ i.e. that her wonderful voice is inimitable - is in itself a reason to always eagerly await a new album.

And this I think is her 37th. An album that shows that despite being in her mid-fifties (we are exact contemporaries: I am three weeks older) her voice is still the SUBLIME instrument it always was. And that is no small feat. My voice, never great to start with, is now totally shot. However, she still sings like a 28-year-old. Prove it by playing her early Steeleye LPs.

And that last sentence I feel is the reluctant verdict on this CD. Were I about to buy my first Maddy Prior album, this would not be amongst my possible choices. But that said, it has a great deal going for it.

Clearly, the album smacks of the midnight oil. And that is a compliment. The first ten tracks are co-penned by her and band members, and form a song cycle based on the legend of King Arthur.

None of the songs seemed to have forced themselves out of anyone's gut, but they are none the worse for that. Nobody is flying by the seat of their pants here. Much thought has gone into the lyrics and even more into the musical element and choice of instruments and special effects. The choice of cittern is particularly inspired: would that we could hear more of this rare instrument in everyday usage.

With atmospheric electronic "Tangerine Dream" type background sounds, I was really quite enjoying the album, and imagined myself striding the ruins of Tintagel, with this on my headphones. And then a curious thing happenend. At the end of track 10, the Arthur song cycle ran out of steam, and presumably, at a little under 30 minutes, it was non-releasable as a CD. So five more songs have been added (four of them well-known traditional ballads). And her rendition of them is fine indeed, but somehow it is like adding a modern extension to a listed building. Messy. There is even a song they have written on the "Uppies and Downies" ball game. Perhaps, the CD should be re-titled "King Arthur and the Non-Related"! At least Rick Wakeman (as I recall) went the whole hog all those years ago with his King Arthur concept album.

But that said, were I a gift shop owner in Tintagel, I would ensure I stocked up with this album NOW.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England.

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