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Strawbs - 40th Anniversary Celebration: Vol 1: Strawberry Fayre CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.92 | 3 ratings

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5 stars This forty year anniversary live double CD of the venerated Strawbs is a real treat for fans (nee fanatics) of the band. To start off with, the original Heartbreak Hill line ups kicks off the album with two of Strawbs' best and probably most progressive sounding, if least known, songs they ever recorded, the title track Heartbreak Hill and the almost Genesis like Starting Over. Musicians Andy Richards, Tony Fernandez, Jo Partridge, Chas Cronk and, Of course, Dave Cousins have never played these songs live together and you can tell that they relish every note created during every moment of playing these songs.

Strawbs' long time bassist Chas Cronk does an excellent job of mixing and mastering a very complex and congested sound and really brings out the details and makes you feel like you have the band playing in your living room.

The second two songs feature the group Cry No More (named after the Strawb's song) and features Chas Cronk and two songs by Strawbs' only replacement singer/guitarist Roy Hill. The acoustic duo are one of the album's revelations, especially on the emotionally moving song Don't Leave Me Here. Hill sings as if he feels every emotion very deeply and the song is even more moving as a result.

Hellfire Blues and Skip To My Lou are newer offerings from Cousins' side project called the Blue Angel Orchestra. Both songs swing and are infectious due to the catchy fiddle playing of folk stalwart Ian Cutler.

All I Need is You and On My Way are two early Sandy and The Strawbs tunes that feature Prog legend Sonja Kristina subbing for the late Sandy Denny. Of course Sonja doesn't have Sandy's depth and range, but she does an enthusiastic cover of the two songs while fronting the Acoustic Strawbs. For those unaware, Sonja joined the Strawbs for one gig after Denny left before moving on to Curved Air fame.

The Electric Strawbs featuring Rick Wakeman's son Oliver (John Hawkin was recovering from an illness at the time) do a killer version of Sheep and a workman like cover of Autumn, and the first CD starts to drag at this point except for a mesmerizing cover of the Graham/Jansch standard Angi. The song is performed by Dave Lambert's side gig Zeus that features twin acoustic guitar magic by band members Lambert and Graeme Taylor.

The last two songs on disc two are perhaps the two best and extremely mellow offerings from the special concert duo of Cousins and super guest star Rick Wakeman, that can also be found on Strawberry Fayre Vol. 2. A little more on that later.

CD 2 starts off with covers of two rare solo Cousins songs Blue Angel and Cry No More with a version of Strawbs featuring eighties guitarist Brain Willoughby and his long time singing partner Cathryn Craig on backing vocals, who does an excellent job of soothing Cousins now weather beaten voice. Willoughby greatly improves the song with his deft fluid guitar lines and much improved melodicism as contrasted to the abrasively loud lead work recorded by Miller Anderson on the song's studio track. Blue Weaver also improves the song with mournful mellotron flute and winds in the songs' verses.

Craig and Willoughby are featured on two songs as a duo and both are another album revelation as Craig's voice is both powerful, emotive and attractive while Willoughby's acoustic guitar playing is virtually other worldly.

Another highlight are two solo John Ford songs that shows off his still excellent voice and catchy acoustic guitar abilities, along with two songs by Lambert's pre Strawbs band Fire. Fire sound like a wonderful combination of the the Who and the Kinks and have a Kinks like song aesthetic with one number titled Father's Name Was Dad. Both songs were catchy and heavy with a slight punkish fee and a heavy dose of Who influence. Great stuff.

The album closes out with more pedestrian acoustic and electric Strawbs and solo Cousins numbers like Grace Darling, save for definitive versions of Josephine, For Better Or For Worse, Evergreen and Where Silent Shadows Fall are played with gusto with accompaniment from The Royal Artillery Orchestra conducted by long time Strawbs arranger the late Robert Kirby and are the concert's as well as the album's show stoppers.

Overall, this two CD set sounds very good for a live recording and some of the songs actually sound quite stellar.

The only fault that I can find with it is the placing of the two Wakeman And Cousins offerings on CD 1 that were also included on the following CD titled Strawberry Fayre Vol.2, which contains the entire Wakeman/Cousins concert plus a DVD of their concert and humorous stage banter.

With the stellar offerings from both Cry No More And Craig & Willoughby, a better idea would have been to include an additional song each from both groups and delete the two redundant Wakeman/Cousins songs.

I cannot imagine any diehard Strawbs fan not enjoying this offering to the full so I will award it 5 stars. It may not be an essential prog album, but with the album's incredible range of material and all performers bringing their A game, it is certainly an essential album for any long time Strawbs' fans. Enjoy the celebration over and over again!

SteveG | 5/5 |


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