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Strawbs - Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.74 | 79 ratings

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4 stars There is something that reeks of an old dusty attic full of songs from this, Strawbs' third album released on the American A&M label, that strangely, like the Strawbs' eponymous debut and sophomore album titled Dragonfly, was not released quickly in the US and actually reissued a few years later when both the Strawbs and Rick Wakeman would become better known to the prog world.

I believe it's due to Dave Cousins' bucolic songwriting and the remarkable absence of Wakeman's signature mellotron and Moog synthesizers which brings a freshness and immediacy to these live performances of mostly new songs. Wakeman was also new to Strawbs' audiences and you can clearly hear the enthusiasm for his deft piano, organ and harpsichord playing. To say that Wakeman gave virtuoso performances is not hype, just the truth. His ability to engage his audiences without coming off as a stuffed shirt is much to his credit, and his later self deprecating manor is well into being carefully formed.

The rest of the Strawbs give solid backing with the percussion based rhythm section of John Ford on bass and Richard Hudson on congas and small hand percussion instruments, while rhythm guitarist Tony Hooper does well to back Cousins' occasional electric guitar intros and outros. Cousins' seems to no longer be trying to find his voice and is quite self assured from the opening song "Martin Luther King's Dream" to the bonus CD track of "The Vision Of The Lady Of The Lake", which should have been included on the original vinyl release as it's the epitome of prog folk.

"Martin Luther's Dream" is pure American folk; the type of anthemic song that Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger could have written and sung during any of their numerous social protest gatherings in the late 60s. It does having moving lyrics even if the music is quite banal. The 4 part suite of "The Antique Suite" finds the first rumblings of Cousins writing a truly progressive folk song about the passing of a good friend, from cancer, that was an avid antiques collector. Apart from being a lament, Cousins interjects facets about his friend's life and somewhat lonely existence in the voice of Toby Hooper while Cousins himself narrates this true life drama. Musically, it's spectacular with incredible melodic sections and works well as a whole.

"Temperance Of Mind" is solo Wakeman on piano with his own mini suite of different genre phrases played together at either break neck speed or slowly with utter skill and finesse. Encompassing neo-classical, jazz, rag time and a string of cliched silent movie accompaniments for a truly comical effect, it's one of the album's highlights. "Finger Tips" is a risque lament by Cousins of a past female encounter that probably meant more to him than to the audience. However, a stirring version of "Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth" with Cousins on sharply distorted electric guitar that is driven home by incendiary organ that falls somewhere between the musings of Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple, complete with added distortion.

"The Vision Of The Lady In The Lake" is the same long odd narration without the conventional verse, chorus, verse strong structure that prog folk fans seem to like so much. I wish that I could say that added piano accompaniment by Wakeman helps the song but he only added some fills to give the song a little atmosphere and class, which is disappointing. However, Cousin's vocals are more emotive and, more importantly, clearer, which is paramount in such a long epic story song. This song as well as a peedestian version "We'll Meet Again Sometime" are bonus tracks to the 1998 CD reissue and not found on the original vinyl. Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios" is the best sounding of the 1998 A&M Strawbs CD reissues as Ghosts and Heroine have slightly dodgy mastering.

So, 4 stars for this good sounding treasure from the attic as Just A Collection Of Antiques and Curios possesses an ambiance that's rare to find in other folk rock works of it's time, and for some reason beyond my reckoning, plays well on a cold winter's night.

SteveG | 4/5 |


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