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Strawbs - Strawbs CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.13 | 87 ratings

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3 stars Ah, Dave Cousins and the kitchen sink. That's what's come to mind when I listen to the Strawbs' eponymous debut, and for good reason. "Strawbs" was one of the most expensive albums made in the 60s with a budget of $30,000 US. The equal of over $200,000 in today's money.

The reasons for this are manifold but one need not be a genius to assume that the loss of powerhouse vocalist Sandy Denny was a key contributor. Getting a recording contract with fledgling A&M Records on the strength of the Sandy And The Strawbs' material, recorded in Denmark in 1967, was a hard hole for the band to plug. An aborted attempt to hire sexy siren Sonja Kristina (who would find some renown fronting Curved Air a couple of years later) as a replacement certainly didn't help. So what to do? Throw money at the problem in the form of over producing the album with all manner of ornate orchestration, numerous session players and even the services of an Arabic band.

The results are not terrible but the material on "Strawbs" could have been so much better with a less is more approach. What does work well is the shocking (for the times) lead off track "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus", about a man who says he's the Christ in current times. Also good is the sublime album closer "The Battle", a nascent prog-like song about a medieval battle using chess pieces as the characters who suffer through the bloody ordeal, as told by Cousins with Gregorian accents supported by stately church like organ and martial drumming. Brilliant stuff.

The simpler folky songs like "All The Little Ladies", "Pieces Of 79 and 15", and "Poor Jimmy Wilson", while good songs, suffer from over production or, in the case of "Pieces Of 79 and 15", by over singing by Toby Hooper. The sublime "Tell Me What You See In Me", taken from the aborted Sandy And The Strawbs sessions, suffers from the intrusion of Arabic instruments and melodies and comes off sounding clumsy and heavy handed. What does work well with outside musicians is the the wonderfully hard folk rock of "Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth?", which features hyponitic bass lines from future Led Zeppelin member John Paul Johns and jazzy piano from future Quicksilver member Nicky Hopkins. The dramatic symphonic bombast of "Oh, How She Changed" is another song that benefits from the heavy production and is one of my favorites on the album. The same with the less bombastic but just as ornately orchestrated track "Or Am I Dreaming", which does evoke dreamlike mental images.

"Strawbs" is not a bad album but it could have been so much better if some restraint was exercised in it's production, at least on the simpler songs stated above. It's still a good indicator of where the Strawbs were heading with excellent albums like "Dragonfly", "Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios" and "From The Witchwood" shorty to follow it. 3.5 stars rounded down to 3.

SteveG | 3/5 |


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