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Strawbs - Ringing Down The Years CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

2.72 | 27 ratings

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3 stars For the most part whenever the Strawbs album 'Ringing Down the Years' is brought up it is either in the context of the Sandy Denny tribute title track or the band's prior (1987) studio release 'Don't Say Goodbye', or both. The connection with 'Don't' makes sense since the two albums were released as a two-disc CD set in the late nineties which is about the only way anyone is going to hear these tracks unless they happen across the original CD in a cutout bin somewhere. Which isn't likely since the CD was only released in Canada and with virtually no promotion it didn't move many copies there.

The Denny connection is real, Denny having made her professional band debut with the Strawbs more than twenty years prior to this release, and given the intimacy of Dave Cousins' lyrics one has to assume he had remained close to her until her unexpected death in 1978: "I was in a Cleveland hotel room when they telephoned the news; I drowned my sorrow all night long in Southern Comfort blues. The show went on to great applause and choking back the tears, as every word you ever sang came ringing down the years". The song was first recorded in 1979 but as far as I know was only released as a quickly- deleted single. The song is a poignant tribute to an incredible talent and gives insight into the depth of the Strawbs connections to early British progressive and folk-rock music.

As for the rest of the album it's a mixed-bag, much like its predecessor 'Don't Say Goodbye'. The opening "Might as Well Be from Mars" is a fairly disposable New-Wave leaning rocker not really in keeping with the Strawbs body of work, although the lyrics do speak to a fractured relationship which has certainly been a regularly recurring theme for the band. The song was included only because Canadian law at the time required native artistic talent to be included in order for the record to be released there. The song comes from Neil Chapman and Graeme Williamson of Pukka Orchestra, a fairly obscure Canadian New-Wave band of the early eighties.

Cathy Lesurf of the Albion Band provides the lead female vocals on "The King", a very Strawbs-like baroque-folk tune which had originally been the b-side of "Ringing Down the Years" with Maddy Prior providing the vocals back then. "Forever Ocean Blue" boasts sweeping strings and nice vocal arrangements as well as a rich Brian Willoughby guitar solo but in the end comes off a bit sappy in my opinion, a bit like some of the too-sincere stuff Chris DeBurgh was cranking out in the eighties and nineties. Good if you like that sort of thing but I tend to prefer Cousins' acerbic wit to his sentimental side. And best to combine the two if possible.

"Grace Darling" originally appeared on the 'Ghosts' album and while this version is considerably longer and more electric I mostly prefer the original's slightly off-kilter feel to the highly-processed studio version here. Don't get me wrong though, it's a solid song and both versions are good; it's just that the 'Ghost' one is better.

The other retread is "Tell Me What You See in Me" which dates back to the early days of the band, and in fact appeared on the Sandy Denny-fronted demo tracks that became the 'All Our Own Work' release. Cousins also included this on the first A&M studio release for the band in 1969. This is a good version but of course Cousins can't carry a candle vocally to Denny's version. It is interesting to compare his voice in 1991 to the 1969 'Strawbs' version though, and despite all those years he still had quite a rich character to his singing well into the nineties (and beyond). The sitar and tabla from a group guest Arab musicians on the 1969 version are replaced with Willoughby's guitar and Chris Parren's keyboards here.

Bassist Rod Demick makes a rare songwriting contribution with his collaboration on "Afraid to Let You Go", yet another love song and one on which he also sings. This is a soft-rock number but not a bad choice for an early nineties album. Demick also co-wrote the closing "Taking a Chance", another soft-rocker that features drummer Richard Hudson on lead vocals.

The band hearkens back to their Oyster/Arista days on "Stone Cold is the Woman's Heart", yet again a soft-rocker but this one drafted by Cousins and a pleasant, slightly country- tinged number with some bluesy guitar that sounds a bit like something he wrote as a solo piece but again a good choice here.

This is a fairly forgotten album in the vast Strawbs discography, and I wouldn't suggest it to anyone as a prototypical introduction to the band. But it's a decent record nonetheless, and three stars fits pretty well. If you can find the version bundled with 'Don't Say Goodbye' it would make a nice addition to your collection.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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