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Strawbs - From The Witchwood CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.02 | 224 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
4 stars "From the Witchwood" is one of rock music's most successful attempts at sounding ancient without a trace of self parody. Strawbs had been trying for nearly a half decade to achieve these ends, and bits and pieces of the prior 3 albums do succeed, but something about the whole makeup of "Witchwood" fits like a neatly completed jigsaw. Audiences in the 1970 time period had been searching for this sound, and here it arrived only to be relatively ignored. No doubt, it did achieve a measure of success, but nothing near the degree merited.

The album begins with arguably its two best cuts - the ever popular song of praise to the countryside in a "Glimpse of Heaven", and a contrasting view of the trappings of earthly existence in "Witchwood". Other than the presiding folk element, the songs are quite different, with the title cut being far more mysterious and haunting, helped along by Cousins' dulcimer and banjo. The album takes a dip for the obligatory contributions of Hudson and Ford. While these tracks are not bad, Cousins is so at the top of his songwriting game here that anyone else looks inadequate by comparison. Luckily he re-emerges with his classic song of religious division, "The Hangman and the Papist". In its introduction we are privy to Rick Wakeman's immense talent, but it is the song that overshadows Mr Wakeman, from the poignant lyrics to the buildup to Dave Cousins' blood curdling denouement.

"Sheep" is a superb progressive song, like an early Strawbs suite, that began Side 2 forcefully back in the old LP days. It starts with a frenetic couple of verses and a rare appearance of electric guitar, before Wakeman takes over on organ and brings the house down. Then things settle down into a young boy's view of a slaughterhouse and how it changes his life. It's all a bit twee in 2009, sure, but still a timeless lesson. After Hudson's snooze fest "Canon Dale", we are back to another highlight, "Shepherd's Song", and the first Strawbs tune to feature mellotron prominently, as well as a moog solo. The guitars, vocals, and poetic lyrics are all top shelf, and while the overall mood is pastoral, we are getting more clues as to Cousins' push and pull around affairs of the flesh and sin. "In Amongst The Roses" is a return visit to the nearly pure folk of the first couple of albums, with added sprinkles of harpsichord, and a now rare vocal duet between Cousins and Hooper. The album proper ends with the country tinged "I'll Carry on Beside You", which sounds like it was great fun for the group, from Hooper's lead to the sing-along chorus to Wakeman's slamming of the piano keys saloon style. Such variety on one disk.

The bonus track is actually an odd fish. It would be more at home on "Bursting at the Seams" or "Hero and Heroine" than that of the album currently under consideration, being a very progressive song that begins quietly and slowly builds up. The prominence of electric guitar played in a progressive style distinguishes it from anything else of this period. In spite of this dichotomy, it's an excellent bonus track that seems a few years ahead of its time, and I suppose a small link to the original closer can be found via Wakeman's piano work.

I don't know exactly where the Witchwood might be, but music emanating thereof truly seems to come from another space and time. While Strawbs retained this quality throughout their history, the spell was most powerful on this 1971 release.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |


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