Album ReviewsReviews

Review: In Gowan Ring - The Glinting Spade (1999)

1999 cover

artist: In Gowan Ring
release: (Abend The Knurled Stitch O’er) The Glint­ing Spade
format: CD, LP
year of release: 1999, 2013
label: Blues­anct, Mer­lin’s Nose
dur­a­tion: 56:43

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

Rereleases long over­due is primar­ily a rel­ev­ant cat­egory when you don’t own the ori­ginal album. Appar­ently, I got the abso­lute last copy of the ori­ginal The Glint­ing Spade CD when I bought it from Blues­anct some seven years back, or at least that’s what the label told me. It’s been sold out since then, and while the sur­round­ing albums The Twin Trees and Hazel Steps Through a Weathered Home had been given new edi­tions by Shayo at around the same time, The Glint­ing Spade had to wait to this year to be over­hauled by Ger­man label Mer­lin’s Nose. The ground­break­ing début album Love Charms has been wal­low­ing in obscur­ity since 1994, but hey, what can you do. Maybe some­thing to con­sider for its 20th anniversary next year? For those who for whatever reason did­n’t snag a copy of the ori­ginal release, here are some reas­ons why the new issue should get your atten­tion.

In many ways, this album is a nat­ural step between the sur­round­ing second and fourth albums: a move from hazy psy­che­delic folk to more focused and com­pact songs. The Glint­ing Spade has its share of drone mater­ial, exem­pli­fied by the two “Star” tracks, but the sung parts are clear and tighter than before. Because of this ‘halfway’ nature, I had con­sidered the album some­what inferior to its more extreme neigh­bours.

2013 cover

The album does house what is in my view a ser­i­ous con­tender for the best track B’eirth ever wrote, not to men­tion one of my favour­ite songs ever, period: “Cipher’s String on the Tree in the Dream of the Queen”. The song is about as long as the title, but it’s an unsur­passed show­case of some of the best aspects of his music. A dawn­ing open­ing of string drones and gui­tar gives way to a slow march for horns and per­cus­sion that intro­duces the basic chord set­ting of the track. The intro­duc­tion over, B’ee switches to a warm lyr­ical intro­duc­tion over ambi­ent and bells. The cent­ral part works out the themes in harp and gui­tar, but indulges in some more rever­ber­at­ing ambi­ent and chant parts a little over halfway, weav­ing back and forth. The end­ing is a great return to the march of the begin­ning, but wear­ing two dif­fer­ent cloaks: first stately, led by a whistle, but then sud­denly more whim­sical, before fad­ing into the drones of “Bow Star”.

Look­ing back, how­ever, the rest of the album also falls  more into place for me now than it did before. The shorter songs of the album (one, two, five, & six) are all lovely affairs that form an excel­lent mod­est adorn­ment for the cent­ral piece that is “Cipher’s String”. Indi­vidu­ally, though, they are also as good as the mater­ial that would fol­low on Hazel Steps. All things con­sidered, this might make The Glint­ing Spade the most emin­ently suited album to intro­duce In Gowan Ring to new listen­ers. As such, the reis­sue of this album should be excit­ing, whether you’re inter­ested in get­ting to know the music of B’eirth (one of our favour­ite mod­ern troubadours) or you just want to com­plete your col­lec­tion.

Reviewed by O.S.


1. Two Wax Dolls (5:35)
2. To Thrum a Glassy Stem (4:05)
3. Cipher’s String on the Tree in the Dream of the Queen (13:09)
4. Bow Star (6:21)
5. A Bee at the Dol­men’s Dell (6:58)
6. Arrow­smith’s Fire (8:05)
7. Milk Star (12:31)