Steeleye Span – Commoners Crown – We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing!

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs . The second track on side two, Demon Lover, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

The sad fact of the matter is that most mixes for rock and pop recordings are much too safe. The engineers believe that the mixes have to be for the average (read: crap) stereo to be able to play the record.

We like when music gets loud. It gets loud in live performance. Why shouldn’t some of that energy make it to the record? It does of course, especially in classical music, but all too rarely even then.

We happened to do the shootout for Thick as a Brick the same week as Commoner’s Crown, and let us tell you, those are two records with shockingly real dynamics in the grooves of the best copies. If you like your music loud — which is just another way of saying you like it to sound LIVE — then the better copies of either album are guaranteed to blow your mind with their dynamic energy and power.

It’s the Engineer?

That can’t be a coincidence, can it? Well, it can, but in the case of these two albums it seems it isn’t. The engineering for both records was done by none other than Robin Black at Morgan Studios. Robin co-produced Commoner’s, takes the main engineering credit, and is solely credited with the mix. He is the sole engineer on TAAB (along with lots of other Tull albums, including Benefit and Aqualung).

Apparently he has no problem putting the dynamic contrasts and powerful energy of the live performance into his recordings and preserving them all the way through to the final mix. God bless him for it.

Thrills

We admit to being thrillseekers here at Better Records, and make no apologies for it. The better the system and the hotter the stamper, the bigger the thrill. It’s precisely the dynamic sound found on these two albums that rocks our world and makes our job fun. It makes us want to play records all day, sifting through the crap to find the few — too few — pressings with truly serious Hot Stamper sound. (There is, of course, no other way to find such sound, and, of course, probably never will be.)

My Story

I grew to love this album back in the ’70s; the stereo store I worked at used it as a Demo Disc, so I heard it on a regular basis. Rather than getting sick of it, I actually bought a copy for my own collection to play at home. (Not sure if I managed to get an import, not sure if I would even have been able to hear the difference.)

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a Demo Disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc. You will have a very hard time finding a record with a richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say “fatter” bottom.

That British Sound

The sound is rich and full in the best tradition of English Rock, with no trace of the transistory grain that domestic rock pressings so often suffer from. The bass is deep, punchy, full up in the mix and correct. There’s plenty of it too, so those of you with less than well-controlled bass will have a tough time with this one. But never fear, it’s a great record to tweak with and perfect for evaluating equipment.

This is some of the best Rock Bass I have ever heard, bar none. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but if I had only one record to demo bass with, hard to imagine I could pick a better one than this. (The Wall would make the short list, Fragile too, maybe one or two others, but not that many.)

Top 100

This record clearly belongs on our Top 100 List, maybe even on a Top Ten List (if we had one), but fails to make the cut for one simple reason — we just can’t find enough clean original British pressings to do regular shootouts. Only a handful of Hot Stampers have made it to the site since we first did Commoner’s Crown in 2009. We love the album and think every right-thinking audiophile should own a great copy such as this, but the domestic pressings are made from dubs and the British originals are scarce and getting scarcer, so there simply will never be enough to go around, and not enough to qualify for our Top 100 List.

Hi-Fi Free

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, no digital reverb, nothing that could possibly remind you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky sweet and Tubey Magical, THIS IS THE SOUND WE LOVE.

We bash crap like Diana Krall and Patricia Barber because we’ve heard records that sound as good as this and know that THIS is how a good female vocal recording is supposed to sound.

We hope that if you buy this record you have a BIG pair of dynamic speakers or horns with which to play it. This demanding and energetic music simply cannot be reproduced properly with small speakers or screens. We want this AMAZING DEMO DISC QUALITY recording to go to a good home, the kind with big speakers and the power to drive them, where the sound of the album can be appreciated with its glory and power intact. Nothing less will do justice to this wonderful music.

Our Guarantee

We can guarantee you there is no CD on the planet that could ever do this recording justice. The Hot Stamper pressings have MAGIC that just can’t be captured on one of them there silvery (slivery?) discs. I realized during our shootout that THIS is the sound that you never hear on CD, ever. I’ve got five hundred of the damn things and none of them can touch the sound of a record like this.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Little Sir Hugh 
Bach Goes to Limerick 
Long Lankin 
Dogs and Ferrets

Side Two

Galtee Farmer
Demon Lover 
Elf Call 
Weary Cutters 
New York Girls

AMG Review

From the opening bars of “Little Sir Hugh” — an extraordinarily brisk and upbeat sounding treatment of an incredibly grim song — the band playing on Commoner’s Crown scarcely sounds like the same group on Now We Are Six or Parcel of Rogues. Now a full-fledged rock group, competing with the likes of Jethro Tull and pumping out higher amperage than Fairport Convention, Steeleye engages in heavy riffing, savage attacks on their instruments, and generally kicks out the jams on this album. But they’re also fairly clever, interweaving Bach with traditional Irish music — actually, Bach-meets-the-Mooncoin-Jig from their previous record — on “Bach Goes to Limerick.” There’s not a bad song here, and even if it is more rock than folk, it’s all very substantial and vibrant music-making, and maybe the classic Steeleye Span’s most engaging album.