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Strawbs - Sandy Denny And The Strawbs: All Our Own Work CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

2.76 | 31 ratings

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3 stars 'All Our Own Work' represents the earliest studio work of the Strawbs, shortened from the Strawberry Hill Boys around the same time band leader Dave Cousins heard the young and aspiring singer-songwriter Sandy Denny at an acoustic folk show and promptly convinced her to join the group.

These tracks were recorded in Copenhagen in the latter half of 1967, and even by then (given the late Ms. Denny's growing popularity and ambition) the group arrangement was clearly destined to be short-lived. And in fact she departed before the band was even able to shop the record to a label and found her true launching pad to fame with Fairport Convention the following spring.

The sound on these songs is very firmly rooted in the mid-sixties, and musically is miles away from anything the band would do in later years. Cousins' musical experience at the time was mostly an odd combination of skiffle, bluegrass and acoustic folk, while Denny was pretty much a predestined folk-rock goddess in the process of working out the details. But here there seems to generally be an emphasis on recording something marketable which manifests as a hodge-podge of tunes that alternate between Beatles-clone pop, mellow acoustic folk, and an occasional nod to the fast-growing folk-rock sounds coming out of the American West Coast in the form of Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas & the Papas, the Byrds, Judy Collins and so on.

"On My Way" seems to portend the beginning of a grand career for the fledgling band, delivered with electric guitar and layered harmonies very much in the then-popular folk-rock vein and dominated by Denny's vocals in unrestrained youthful prime. Such was not to be the case of course, but (despite Ken Gudmand's completely uninspired garage-band drumming) the song delivers its intended commercial appeal nonetheless.

One of the few gems on this record comes with track two in the form of an early version of the Sandy Denny trademark song "Who Knows Where the Time Goes", recorded even before Judy Collins discovered it. This has of course become the song most associated with Denny and her role as a British folk-rock icon. It's basically a solo tune as Ms. Denny both sings and plays acoustic guitar, but even in 1967 Cousins clearly saw its inclusion as a 'no-brainer'.

For anyone who hasn't figured it out by now, Sandy Denny dominates this record much as she would those released during her two tenures with Fairport Convention, with Fotheringay and really as with everything she ever did during her short life. Songs like "Tell Me What You See in Me", "Stay Awhile", "All I Need is You" and "Nothing Else Will Do" all show Denny not only laying down luscious vocal tracks but clearly influencing the song arrangements into a poppish, acoustic/electric blended style that would have been quite popular in the States had the band managed to pull off a record contract and international tour, which at the time was as likely as landing a man on the moon. True to the fast pace of change in the sixties though, both would happen just months later.

"Always on my Mind" and "Sweetling" show what the band was capable of without Denny. Both are Tony Hooper compositions, and he delivers both lead acoustic guitar and vocals on both. Hooper would leave the band by 1972 and the reason why is pretty apparent as, while these are folk-rock tunes in the style of the day, they are also both unremarkable and clearly demonstrate the conservative nature of Hooper's songwriting style. Not surprisingly today he performs with the barn-dance band Pitchfork and sidelines with the traditional British folk group Misalliance.

The band and especially Cousins can't resist showing off their fast-picking bluegrass chops and does on the acoustic instrumental "Wild Strawberries", a pleasant toe-tapping tune but really the last-hurrah to the band's musical past.

Two other tunes made it onto the Pickwick vinyl when it was finally released, the Beatlesque "How Everyone but Sam was a Hypocrite" and the lightly country-influenced Sandy Denny showcase ballad "And You Need Me", a Cousins composition but one that serves to do nothing more than highlight the spectacular depth of Ms. Denny's vocal talents. Joe Boyd would reissue this album with string treatments in 1991 and that version of this song is nothing short of breathtaking, and both versions are highlights on the massive Sandy Denny boxed-set issued in 2010.

While the album was not released at the time, Dave Cousins would leverage the studio recordings to land a deal with Herb Alpert's A&M label the following spring and in doing so become the first British act signed to the company. By then Denny had departed which would lead to complications for the band when they delivered their self-titled debut to the label, but regardless this is a great but mostly forgotten example of a briefly popular folk- rock sound that has the added benefit of showcasing the woman who would help define the genre for a generation. A solid three stars despite the somewhat dated sound today, and recommended as required listening to any fan of British folk-rock.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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