Review Summary: Great melodic piano-based folk with prog and psychedelic influences and excellent singing
According to the booklet that comes with the 2008 reissue CD, Mellow Candle’s only album, Swaddling Songs
, was at one point the single most sought after major label folk rarity of all time. While these booklets can be expected to exaggerate (for example, later on in that same paragraph it calls the album ‘a genuine masterpiece’ which could be considered a slight exaggeration perhaps) this is probably true. On its release in 1972 Swaddling Songs
was totally ignored. It was not until the late 80’s and early 90’s that anyone started paying attention to it, and it quickly gained a large cult following. This fanbase is definitely well deserved, as Swaddling Songs
is an excellent album that manages to fuse Celtic folk-rock, psychedelia and progressive rock effortlessly, taking ideas from all 3 genres without truly fitting totally into any of them, instead creating their own unique style.
While Mellow Candle can best be compared to other acid folk groups of the time such as Fairport Convention
and The Incredible String Band
, they actually share little with their peers musically. Instead of using acoustic guitars, Mellow Candle rely here mainly on piano and very prominent melodic bass-lines, though other instruments also make appearances, such as electric guitars, flute and a harpsichord on the album opener ‘Heaven Heath’. The only other constant instrument is the drums, which are also played excellently with a lot of variation.
While all of the usually piano-based melodies that make up the songs are always short, memorable and catchy enough to remain in your head for days after, because of the progressive influences they still manage to remain complex and never lack depth so don’t become at all stale.
swings between calm, relaxing and sometimes genuinely stunningly beautiful folk songs such as ‘Silversong’ to much more rock-influenced songs like ‘The Poet And The Witch’. The calmer songs have aged slightly better, but the other songs still sound fantastic and full of energy. This mix of styles works very well for the album, preventing it from becoming at all dull and keeping it varied. While at first the album sounds totally happy there is always something sinister just below the surface, and this complexity in mood is a large factor in what makes the album so successful.
The lyrics cover a large range, with dark folk tales of witches and even hell and the devil in the heavier songs (unusually for a band created in a Catholic school) and songs focusing on themes such as nature in the lighter ones. While not amazingly complex, the story-like lyrics nonetheless add perfectly to the very Celtic sounding folky mood of the album. One of the songs, ’Lonely Man’, was written when vocalist Clodagh Simonds was only 12 years old, so when someone uses an artist’s young age as an excuse for the music being poor, point that out to them.
The real highlight of the album though is the incredible singing of the 2 vocalists, Clodagh Simonds, who often sings the lower parts and Alison Williams who usually sings the higher parts, though both singers have an incredible range and often switch roles. All of the singing on the album is absolutely brilliant. Both vocalists sing in a haunting ethereal style that fits perfectly with the dreamy music and neither singer shadows the other at all, both contributing equally to the music. The album is full of beautiful vocal harmonies and melodies. Occasionally, such as in ‘Buy Or Beware’ each vocalist sings different sections in the same way you’d expect Q-Tip and Phife Dawg to trade verses in an A Tribe Called Quest
album. The voices compliment each other perfectly and flow together so well it can even be difficult to tell when one singer stops and the other begins, despite the obvious differences in their voices.
Overall, Swaddling Songs
is an excellent album, filled with great melodies, easily enough variation to keep it interesting throughout it’s length and always beautiful singing. At times it can sound a bit dated, but compared to most other 70’s folk-rock bands it sounds completely modern. If you have any interest in folk or piano based music or just want to hear something with great singing I highly recommend this.