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Dave Cousins - Old School Songs (with Brian Willoughby) CD (album) cover


Dave Cousins


Prog Folk

3.35 | 3 ratings

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4 stars The proliferation of reworkings and reimaginings amongst those decades past their creative peak continues unabated, a phenomenon to which STRAWBS have succumbed repeatedly over the last decade. As artistically pointless as some might be, they do help us recall the days when this type of disc actually meant something, Backtracking to 1979, DAVE COUSINS and his old pal BRIAN WILLOUGHBY finally teamed up live and on record for an unplugged set, perhaps the first of its type, preceding not only the MTV series but MTV itself.

Whatever its motivations, "Old School Songs" presents Strawbs classics and a few hitherto unheard tracks in a crisp lo-fi manner, COUSINS' wearily magnanimous voice accompanied by his own simple strumming and Willoughby's often stunning acoustic leads offer a side to these largely folk numbers that was occasionally lost in the arrangements of full band productions. This is true even for "The Battle", one of the earlier tracks, and certainly true for "The Hangman and the Papist" and "Beside the Rio Grande".

Even in its live studio mustiness and the cassette captured festival recordings, this album excels in at least 2 unexpected aspects. First the aforementioned work of Willoughby, known afterwards as the master of the twiddly bits, hones his craft both technically and melodically quite beyond the capabilities of any prior or subsequent Strawbs guitarist. His fills and solos shimmer in rough cut grandeur as befits the overall epic quality of most of the selections. I find myself looking forward to even the shortest of these as an offset to the Dylanesque repetitiveness of some of the song structures. The other triumph is in the introduction of a couple of marvelous pieces that had actually been part of the repertoire of the early days of SANDY DENNY and even before. In particular, "I've been my own worst friend" is Cousins at his folkie best, forgiving himself even as he acknowledges his failures. Coincidentally or not, it acts as a fair assessment of his musical career up to that point. These tunes hold off on the Willoughby flair perhaps out of respect for their original intent. The version of "Grace Darling" that opens the album would become a blueprint for later live and studio versions.

Due to its purely acoustic format, this disk would be most suitable for fans of the group and of Dave Cousins, fans of folk music in general, and those who might be curious about how some of those classic Strawbs story songs might sound if they were firmly but lovingly given the old school treatment.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |


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