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Album Review

Bristol, England's Spiro proves that there are all sorts of ways to use traditional folk songs, that the songs themselves can be used as vibrant and ghostly players in a different scheme, the old melodies serving as launching pads and road markers in a different pattern. A quartet whose instrumentation (violin, mandolin, accordion, guitar, viola, cello) and song choices may suggest a 21st century version of Fairport Convention or Pentangle, Spiro instead takes a minimalist classical chamber quartet approach to old northern British folk songs that really comes closer to something Philip Glass might do, with abrupt turns and offshoots to the melody careening things in myriad directions, with the song itself re-emerging into things here and there like a submerged object floating back to the surface of a lake in the wake of a rainstorm. It's a fascinating approach, and here on the group's fourth album (the first album, Lost in Fishponds, was issued under the band name the Famous Five in 1994), and second for Peter Gabriel's Real World Records, Spiro has refined and expanded it to a fine edge. The group relies a little less on straight traditional material this time around (there are five traditional songs among the 14 tracks here, although what's traditional and what isn't is sometimes hard to tell from the titles alone), and bases things on lines from Emily Dickinson ("Yellow Noise") or Shakespeare's King Lear ("Spit Fire Spout Rain"), for instance, although there's always the feel of something old/something new woven into Spiro's arrangements. This is a wonderful album from a completely unique band, who manage somehow to be both folk and something else again.


Formed: 1993 in Bristol, England

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

A folk outfit out of Bristol, England, Spiro isn't one's garden-variety folk group, sounding more like a classical chamber quartet playing traditional material with Pentangle, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass all sitting in, and the result, when Spiro is at its best, is a startling and fresh spin on the whole British folk tradition. The group grew out of the Bristol folk scene in 1993, and released an album on Uncle Records, Lost in Fishponds, under the name the Famous Five in 1994. After stabilizing...
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Kaleidophonica, Spiro
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