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Strawbs - Ghosts CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.02 | 185 ratings

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Special Collaborator
Prog-Folk Team
5 stars "Ghosts" marked the first studio album by Strawbs to contain the same personnel as its predecessor since "Strawbs" and "Dragonfly" at the turn of the 1970s. With some modicum of stability, the group was able to improve upon the best qualities of "Hero and Heroine" and even return back to their folkier roots, while tastefully aiming for the US market.

The title and opening cut is an epic more than a suite, as it symmetrically introduces themes and returns to them in reverse order. It was inspired by a rather frightening lit-up monument in downtown Indianapolis where the band was staying. The wall of harpsichords and ponderously strummed acoustic guitars give way to more ominous bass lines, waves of mellotron, and troubled whispered vocals as the protagonist surrenders to restless slumber. The middle section sees Lambert take over on both vocals and careening lead guitar. The track ends with the opening melody enhanced by mellotron choirs, and segues brilliantly into "Lemon Pie". While a poppier song, it starts off on gentle acoustic guitars and almost southern Rock-sounding chirrups from Lambert's lead. It too features harpsichord, with an irresistible hook and chorus. So somehow Strawbs manage to juxtapose 2 drastically different tracks and yet provide links between them. A mini-suite follows, the first part with Cousins' more reflective vocals over piano and even Clare Deniz on cello, another nod to their early days. The second part is one of the album's more convincing rock numbers, with Lambert singing, and sounding like Clapton on guitar. Mellotron strings build up throughout the piece and some congas are present. The original side one ended with "Where do you go", another poppy, if lyrically dark track that was actually recorded before "Hero and Heroine" and intended for single release at that time. It is very reminiscent of CAT STEVENS and is notable for its strong tune, recorder playing by Cousins, and excellent honky tonk piano from John Hawken.

"The Life Auction" stands as one of Strawbs' most progressive tracks, beginning with a depressive spoken diatribe by Cousins, before the main song begins, all about the picking apart of one's possessions after death. Haunting and ultimately affirming of what is really important, it unites mellotron laden verses, hard rock guitar, and a beautiful middle break. "Don't Try to Change Me" is another chart ready song, this time penned and sung by Lambert, with a catchy melody and chorus. While "Hero" was a work of near genius, it also teetered on the edge of insanity at times, especially in the angst-ridden closers. Comparatively, Dave Cousins returns to a more contented and romantic vision in the wrap up to "Ghosts", with 2 of his best songs ever. "You and I When we were young" (bracketed by Hawken's haunting solo "Remembering") is highlighted by jangly acoustic guitar, nostalgic lyrics, sweet lead guitar solo, and harmonious third verse, almost like the third part of "Autumn" but done with more restraint. "Grace Darling" is about a lighthouse keeper's daughter who saved shipwrecked sailors, and is nearly usurped by a young choir, with Cousins' inspired singing almost as accompaniment at times. It remains one of Strawbs' most emotive and transcendent songs, and this is the definitive version.

The bonus cut was written by Rod Coombes and it sounds like he may also be making his only vocal appearance with the group. It's decent but quite unremarkable.

"Ghosts" marked the end of an amazing run for Strawbs of 4 utterly dominant prog folk albums, with varying degrees of each, but always with an uncanny melodic sense, and an awareness and appreciation for darkness and light, the old and the new, the tragic and the celebratory, as being merely alternate and necessary components of the whole. This body of work ensures that the Ghosts of Strawbs will survive us all.

kenethlevine | 5/5 |


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