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Strawbs - Grave New World CD (album) cover

GRAVE NEW WORLD

Strawbs

 

Prog Folk

4.16 | 221 ratings

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kenethlevine
Special Collaborator
Prog-Folk Team
5 stars While "From the Witchwood" proffered a tasty platter of tunes juxtaposed and arranged with care, "Grave New World" really proposes an unbroken song sequence, in which no part can be omitted without devaluing the overall work. Comparisons to "Days of Future Passed" are valid, but in the Moodys' effort a tug of war between the band and the orchestra presented a distraction of sorts. Not only does every track, short or long, play an important role, but a few of them, especially the shorter ones, would be rudderless if plunked down into another collection.

The album begins with arguably the best thing Strawbs ever did, the generally non-denominational hymn "Benedictus". That the track is glorious in every sense is clear and remarkable in its own right, its electric and acoustic dulcimers and twelve string guitars backing Dave Cousins' reverent voice along with several sweet sounding guest vocalists. But the real miracle is that Blue Weaver has just stepped into Rick Wakeman's shoes and is being asked to play the organ and mellotron like his life depends on it, which he does. While Cousins wrote this when in anger at Wakeman for leaving the group, I daresay the song has wider applicability, and it helped propel the group onward and upward.

From here the album moves from strength to strength, whether it is the psychedelia of "Queen of Dreams", the political humor of the Tull-like "Heavy Disguise", the dramatic epiphany of the title cut, the gorgeous symphonic ballad "Flower and the Young Man", or the angry prog of "Tomorrow". In between, brief interludes like "On Growing Older" and the levity of "Ah Me Ah My" portray the human life as one of contrasts between the intense and the fluffy, with a healthy dollop of nostalgia (after all its Strawbs we're talking about). In the closer, "Journey's End", Cousins utilizes the same vocal tone as in "Benedictus", and Blue weaves a simple yet ornate melody on piano that fades out.

The bonus tracks are happily tacked on at the end so do not interfere with the core of the disk, but neither shows Strawbs in the best light. The better of the two is the poppy "Here it Comes", but a similar approach is carried out much more effectively a few years later on "Ghosts". The hard rock "Going Home" shows a side of the group that rarely works, but, when it does, it's usually Dave Lambert that instigates, and he was not yet in the group. These bonuses do help explain why Tony Hooper chose to take his leave after "Grave New World", as the group was clearly heading in a more commercial and harder rock direction, and some of their best material was still to come. But for prog folk fans who want a bit more folk, this is the place to begin serious exploration of the world of Strawbs.

kenethlevine | 5/5 |

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