Maddy Prior’s Ravenchild

ravenchild_prkcd49An icon of English folk rock, Prior knows how to set her impressive vocal talents among supportive instrumental accompaniment. I won’t repeat the history of her career with Steeleye Span and Carnival, because Lahri Bond has already done that in his retrospective review which gives a great summary of personnel changes and albums, while Naomi de Bruyn covered her decision to leave the band after 28 years in her review of Prior’s compilation album Memento. Known and loved for her sweet, clear voice, Prior continues the tradition of fine vocal delivery with Ravenchild.

Ravenchild also continues Prior’s practice of uniting a number of songs around a theme, here of songs about Napoleon Bonaparte and the mythical Raven; she explored the theme of identity before on Flesh and Blood. I really wanted to like Prior’s treatment of these themes, but I found that by grouping two different themes together with assorted singletons, the album didn’t quite flow together for me. With seven songs dedicated to Ravens, the other material seemed like a hodge podge of assorted bits and pieces.

This is not to say that these songs aren’t quite good individually. Prior does a nice version of “Great Silkie from Sules Kerry,” while her updated lyrics for “Rigs of the Time” skewer the wearing of logos, big box stores and media preoccupation with stars’ private lives. “Bold Poachers” reprises a Steeleye Span number, while the opening number, “Twankidillo” is a traditional number.

The three songs that make up “Napoleon in Russia” are Prior’s lyrics set to traditional tunes. “Boney” is set to the same tune as “Gallant Murray,” a stirring tune under any occasion here put to use to describe the beginning of a disastrous campaign, where the Russians used Mother Nature as their most potent weapon. “Scorched Earth” tells of the Russians willingness to go to any lengths to stop the little general, while “Loot” describes the way the Cossacks harried the retreating army weighed down with “treasures.” These three songs work well together, and I wondered why Prior did not continue to develop it.

Prior gives six songs to the Raven theme, writing both words and music. She developed this material from careful scrutiny of a nature show and acquaintance with a tame raven. While ravens have a forbidding place in the mythological lexicon, being scavengers and associated with monstrous war goddesses, their beauty and sense of presence has drawn many with a sense of imagination. One can’t help but feel that it would be much more exciting to have a pet raven than the average budgie. My favorites were “Young Bloods,” about the antics of adolescents who must band together against older mated pairs to gain access to a carcass, and the title track, which describes the affectionate bonds of these intelligent animals. Again, I was disappointed that Prior did not develop this theme further and perhaps broaden it to include some of the material about crows. “Twa Corbies” would have been an obvious extension of this theme, if an album length treatment were given.

Prior is clearly continuing to enjoy the creative endeavor, despite her weariness with the life of a traveling musician. Her many fans will love this album, and newcomers will be impressed with her legendary voice, fine songwriting and the fine instrumental arrangements, with cautions about the overall flow of the album.

(Park Records, 2000)