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Strawbs - Heartbreak Hill [Aka: Starting Over] CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

2.77 | 45 ratings

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4 stars Much better than their other late-70s albums

This album is not well known, because the record company refused to release it when they recorded it (or rather more complexly, their management refused to allow them to release it to the record company and to continue managing them, which led to a situation in which they could not access the rights to their own recording, and were forced dropped by the record company). It was only finally released in the late 1990s on a limited release, but that version has poor-quality sound. Only recently has this great record finally received a proper release with the tracks remastered. The result is that the sound quality is (finally) very good. I think either a number of other reviewers heard a poor-sound-quality version of this, or they only listened to it once, or something. That is all I can think of to explain the poor ratings it has received, because this album is really very good. It is their best of the late 1970s, the best since Ghosts, and indeed, I think better than anything they have released since. Due to declining sales, the Strawbs were being pressured by their management and record company to make AOR hits, and on albums like Deep Cuts, Burning for You, and Deadlines, they complied. However, on this record they did NOT comply, instead handing over (in 1978) an album with long progressive-rock classics and very non-radio friendly emotional folk-rock tunes. You can hear the difference immediately if you compare those previous three albums (such as Deadlines) with this one. Those are polished, muted, tailored for getting on radio. This album is raw, with longer songs. Dave Cousins has said that this was a very difficult time for him, and did not fight to reclaim rights to his recordings as he wanted to forget this time in his life and move on. The songs make clear it was a painful relationship dissolution that animated these tunes. While not great for him, the songs definitely benefit. He sings like he means it. The songs and guitar solos are harder-edged, uncompromising. Some of these songs, because then-still un-released, were re-recorded for the album 'Don't Say Goodbye' ten yearslater. Some reviewers have suggested that those versions are better than the ones here on Heartbreak Hill. I completely disagree. By the time of Don't Say Goodbye (DSG) the sting had clearly worn off, and the songs lack the emotional vitality of these original versions. Furthermore, DSG is tame, with 80's production values and synthesizers that drown out the guitars. This is not the case here on Heartbreak Hill. This is probably their heaviest, rawest album, in their entire catalogue. Totally un-commercial. It is vital, an authentic statement. The best track, and one of the Strawbs' best-ever songs (and again, I have everything they did and have been a fan for 20+ years) is the title track "Heartbreak Hill". For PA readers, this is also one of their most progressive songs, and will appeal to those who otherwise don't listen to folk (or progressive folk), as it is nothing like folk. The second-best song is the 10-minute long "Starting Over", another great progressive rock piece. Close to these in quality is the hard-driving "Something for Nothing", again nothing like folk. This version is WAY better than the version re-recorded on DSG - you really feel it - as is the version of "Let it Rain" - here this sounds poignant and vital, while the DSG version sounds like AOR. Those four songs make up 30 minutes of this 40 minute album, bringing it up to 4 stars. The remaining shorter tracks are all decent, not top-notch but better than the filler on Deadlines (I think half of Deadlines is filler) and better than most of the songs on Burning for You. If you are not a Strawbs fan yet, then obviously check out the early 70s albums first. If you like those, and like Dave Cousins voice and song-writing, then of their late 70s albums this is the one I would turn to first. It is not perfect, but still very good. I give it 8.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale. Make sure to get the re-mastered version with the better sound quality.

Walkscore | 4/5 |


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