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Strawbs - Bursting At The Seams CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.57 | 155 ratings

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4 stars The Strawbs may not have been exactly bursting at the seams but they were certainly hitting on just about every cylinder by the time this album released. Unfortunately Tony Hooper had become the latest of many band casualties, replaced by electric guitarist Dave Lambert and leaving Dave Cousins as the sole original member. In a related move, Cousins accelerated his movement away from folk-rock as a driving force for the group, and in fact at times the band took on an almost glam-rock vibe complete with Bowie-like vocals and more aggressive rhythms (check out 'Stormy Down' and the surprisingly strong 'Backside' in particular). 'Backside' was originally the b-side for the UK version of the 'Lay Down' single, credited to 'Ciggy Barlust and the Whales from Venus' and eventually included on a late-nineties CD remaster. Obviously the band alias reveals at least one of Cousins' influences at the time.

In general this is one of the more progressive Strawbs albums of the period despite two hit singles that were much more geared toward mass appeal than artistic expression. 'Part of the Union', another in a growing list of Hudson/Ford compositions became the band's biggest hit and something of an anthem for laborers, athletic teams and even left-leaning folksters with several of them recording their own (usually acoustic) versions.

'Lay Down' was also a minor hit single for the band, although this one is more of a straight- ahead tune from Cousins with Lambert and Cousin's twin rock riffs and organ fills by Blue Weaver. While the song doesn't do much to mature the group's sound it was still a very accessible piece that surely accounted for much of the album's strong showing on the Top-40 charts.

There are a few folk-inspired moments like the lazy 'Lady Fuschia' and Genesis-like 'The River' and to a certain extent the slow-developing 'The Winter and the Summer', but even with these the instrumentation is almost all electric and the arrangements are clearly intended to move the band closer to a mainstream sound.

But 'Down by the Sea' and 'Tears and Pavan' are both solidly in the progressive mode of the early seventies with beautiful Mellotron passages, wandering tales told in haunting vocals and skillful transitions between heavy rock, acoustic noodling and even classically- inspired swells, especially on 'Down by the Sea' which features more Mellotron and keyboards in general than anything the band had recorded since Rick Wakeman had departed for Yes four years earlier.

The children's' choir ditty 'Thank You' that closes the album is an unfortunate choice, but in 1973 most bands hadn't yet figured out that sort of thing almost always comes out cheesy. And it doesn't ruin the album certainly, but adds nothing either.

Musically and commercially the band improved on 'Bursting at the Seams', probably a combination of a couple tours together and the growing familiarity that came from it. Overall the prior 'Grave New World' and the two albums that would follow this are somewhat stronger offerings from the band, but in the end this one is quite solid and well worth picking up by anyone even remotely interested in their music. Not a progressive rock masterpiece perhaps, but certainly essential in the chronology and discography of the Strawbs, and therefore a four out of five star effort.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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