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Strawbs - Nomadness CD (album) cover

NOMADNESS

Strawbs

 

Prog Folk

2.49 | 53 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Well the magic couldn't last forever for the Strawbs, and given they had managed to record two studio albums in a row with the same lineup they should have expected that the other shoe would drop at some point. The actual momentum behind that drop depends on who you believe. Dave Cousins has said the band was looking to shake things up and explore new directions when he decided to eliminate the Mellotron from the band's arsenal. Another possibility was this was simply a cost-cutting move for a band spending an awful lot of time and money touring the U.S. trying to establish a strong fan base there, and certainly lugging around (and maintaining) a Mellotron in addition to piano, Moog and other instruments was simply an unreasonable expense. Some fans have suggested John Hawken simply wanted to retire. Whatever the reason, he was gone when they entered Sound Techniques Studio in Chelsea to record the album, reduced to a quartet but augmented by no less than four guest keyboardists including former band member Rick Wakeman on electric harpsichord for one track ("Tokyo Rosie"). Cousins also employed sixties accordion wizard Jack Emblow and producer Tom Allom on something called a cymbalum (sort of a hammered dulcimer apparently).

There's not much in terms of progressive music here, and what little does emerge ("Tokyo Rosie", "The Golden Salamander") seems a bit perfunctory and almost cynical, although the arrangements and musicianship are solid enough. "The Promised Land" with its soaring riffs, steam-engine rhythm and playful tempo changes is as close as the band would come to a solid prog rock offering.

No, this is strictly a commercial affair meant to try and gain some market share and a broader fan base. Several songs seem FM radio-friendly like the opening "To Be Free", "Little Sleepy" with its Pete Townshend-sounding power riffs, and the echo-laden rock- cowboy anthem "A Mind of my Own".

And speaking of cowboys, there is a bit of a country feel to some tracks, in particular "Back on the Farm" on which Cousins breaks out his banjo for the first time in quite a while; and the slow, tension-filled "Hanging in the Gallery" where Cousins gives a nice interpretation of what Peter Gabriel might have sounded like singing Bob Dylan tunes.

There are a few CD versions of the album available today, although it wasn't until the 21st century that anyone bothered to reissue this, the band's last album for A&M Records. One from Progressive Line released in 2001 seems to be either a bootleg or at least a half- assed effort, with poor mastering, weak packaging and no bonus tracks. Sunshine reissued the album a few years later, but A&M's version which included extensive remastering and two bonus Cousins songs ("Still Small Voice" and "It's Good to See the Sun") seems to be the best and safest bet. "It's Good to See the Sun" sounds like a Dave Cousins solo effort, while "Still Small Voice" has a promising vocal and synth buildup but seems to be incomplete with both the opening and ending being nothing more than faint, almost imperceptible guitar noodling. Still, it's nice to hear something old and obscure from the band after so many years.

My overall feeling listening to this album today is one of sadness, mostly because the band did seem to be trying something new but like so many older groups trying to reinvent themselves in the mid-seventies the experiment was for the most part a failure. This isn't a bad album and in fact I'm going to give it three stars, but the classic Strawbs sound only comes through occasionally and few of these songs ever ended up on any Strawbs compilations. One has to wonder if there was a tongue-in-cheek cue in mind when the band agreed to be photographed in a public toilet for the cover art.

The good news is that this would not be the last of the Strawbs, even if the lack of memorable tunes and lackluster performances seem to indicate otherwise. The best was in the past by 1975, but there would be other new records worth hearing at least. Recommended but only to serious fans of the band.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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