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5 stars Artful and compelling as always, Dave Cousins, Chas Cronk and Dave Lambert who were key members of The Strawbs during the band`s heyday in the first half of the seventies offer immpecable acoustic impressions of earlier Strawbs classics as well as some newer material in the wholesome Strawbs tradition on this pristine in studio live recording.

There is much solace to be found in the maturity these guys display in their advancing years when so many other rockers are trying to milk the fountains of their youth dry. Dave Cousins`astute voice is as invigourating as it was during the early seventies and if anything with age has become even more penetrating along with the salient vocal harmonies of Lambert and Cronk. These renditions in all their rich modal glory, although comprising only three guitars, the occasional banjo and some impressive mellotron-like bass pedal work from Cronk reveal the true tenderness of these pieces which are actually vivified by the sparseness which is conveyed by the stripped down instrumentation. From the opening harmonics on Oh How She Changed from the Strawbs` 1969 self-titled debut, the evocative rustic images on a full 14 minute version of The Antique Suite also from the early era, the spiritituality of Benedictus, the haunting vigil of Midnight Sun and the terrible beauty of a perfectly rendered Autumn leave the listener literally soaked with sheer emotion by the end of this command performance.

So much vitality is brought to this music here that the originals are almost completely forgotten and one gets the impression that the music is finally being played the way it was intended. Best listened to when burning the midnight oil on a crisp autumn evening, Painted Sky is a testimony to the transcendant timelessness of the Strawbs` picturesque musical visions.

Report this review (#189640)
Posted Monday, November 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars The announcer: - "...and so Crosby, Stills and Nash are back and they are better than ever!" ... *whispering in the ear*... -"What's that?!?" ... *more whispering* ... -"It seems that we had a last minute replacement, but be assured that this trio will knock your Folk Rock socks off!"

Following the release of Deja Fou the Strawbs got rid of their backing band and did a series of live-in-the-studio stripped down acoustic performances that have been compiled on Painted Sky. Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk began their collaboration with the release of Hero And Heroine, in 1974, and so it comes as no surprise that 30% of this live album's material comes from that classic release. There are of course quite a few surprises here as well, like the gorgeous rendition of the debut album's Oh How She Changed, concert favorite The Antique Suite, b-side Grace Darling and Benedictus from Grave New World. On top of that we get two new songs from Deja Fou and a very professional live session from the trio.

I know that these kind of stripped down acoustic live performances are very common in Folk Rock but since I'm generally not a big fan of the genre I found my first encounter with Painted Sky to be quite extraordinary to say the least! Yes, I've heard albums like Simon & Garfunkel's The Concert in Central Park and a few of the early Bob Dylan records, but non of those experiences struck me as genuine and instead came of as just another of the genre's innovators marking their territory for everyone to behold. This is definitely not the case here since I doubt that the Strawbs have anything to prove to the world of today and they just do the things that they do because they really love doing it.

The biggest surprise of the show comes towards the end with a magnificent performance of Deja Fou's If. Unlike its studio version, this take has a much more enthusiastic performance from Dave Cousins with almost no signs of his age coming through the vocals, as it regrettably did in the studio. I also wasn't keen on the whole string arrangement that was added in the studio and so this stripped-down acoustic take almost feels like a gift sent from above!

The only minor disappointment that I experienced here was the very insipid version of my all-time favorite the Strawbs composition Autumn. The vocals begin to drag and the extensive acoustic intro just comes off sounding very similar to Eagles' take on Hotel California from Hell Freezes Over --- i.e. a lot of buildup, but no satisfying punch to it. Of course I have other minor nitpicks like the slightly dissatisfying vocal arrangements on Shine On Silver Sun and Midnight Sun, but that probably bothers me because I'm so used to the originals and can't help but feel that they were better in comparison.

Overall, this is definitely a must have live album for all fans of the Strawbs and acoustic music in general. It might not always blow the studio versions of these tracks out of water, but a new perspective on the band's music is never a bad thing when it comes straight from the source!

***** star songs: Oh How She Changed (4:47) If (4:54)

**** star songs: Grace Darling (5:58) Shine On Silver Sun (3:25) The Antique Suite (14:06) Benedictus (3:50) Midnight Sun (5:04) Cold Steel (4:42) Autumn (9:17)

Report this review (#293694)
Posted Saturday, August 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Oh how they changed (the arrangements)

In recent times, (The) Strawbs have divided their live performances and recordings between Electric Strawbs and Acoustic Strawbs. It is the latter who recorded this album, the line up consisting of a trio of Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk. Nominally a live album, the set contains extracts of two live in the studio performances in 2004 and 2005 with the album title being taken from the studios in California where the "gigs" took place.

A quick glance at the track list reveals that this is not an album of new material, but of new versions of classic songs from the band's history. These songs had at the time of recording been recently added to the repertoire of Acoustic Strawbs, so the opportunity was taken to capture these interpretations for posterity.

Perhaps the first thing to notice is that while the songs were recorded live, there is no audience as such, the recordings benefiting from the studio facilities available to capture the sound. The crystal clear recording of the acoustic instruments brings an unexpected warmth and depth to the album that, despite the limitations of a three man line up, boasts an admirable diversity of moods.

The tracks represent a good if eclectic cross section of the band's work, starting with their first single "Oh How She Changed" and including two of their epic suites. Dave Cousins' voice is as unique and distinguished as ever, his often emotional delivery still sending a quiver down the spine. Songs such as "Grace darling" sound remarkably fresh, and while I don't think they will ever top the symphonic and operatic splendour of the ("Ghosts") original, the version of that song here is superb nonetheless. "Shine on silver sun" is pared back to a slightly melancholy ballad with fine harmonies.

The 14 minute "The antique suite" was only ever available as a live recording, first appearing on "Just a collection of antiques and curios". In reality it is a suite of four unconnected songs which have become four quarters of the greater whole. Highlights here include the Dave Lambert vocal on "We must cross the river". The sublime "Benedictus" is the least different of the songs, since it was primarily an acoustic number anyway, but even here the paring back of the arrangement is evident. I love how the acoustic guitar sings on the intro to "Midnight sun". The gentle, relaxed atmosphere brings out the full beauty of the melody.

Two tracks which appear together, "Cold steel" and "If" were new to the "Deja fu" album released in 2004. As such, they do not really fit well within this collection of otherwise highly familiar songs. Both are fine well performed tracks, although personally I do not feel the former is on a par with its peers. The album closes with the epic "Autumn" from "Hero and heroine". Initially, the piece is barely recognisable, the symphonic opening of the original being replaced by some wonderful picked acoustic guitar. It's only when Cousins' voice breaks in that we settle into the familiar three parts of this magnificent work.

It appears that the track list for this release was subject to a number of changes before it was finalised, with some other classics being omitted. What we have though is a magical journey through some of the Strawbs best songs. I would urge anyone with an interest in the band's music to do themselves a favour and discover them through this wonderful release. To do so will be the first step on a wonderful journey of discovery.

Report this review (#930353)
Posted Friday, March 15, 2013 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Just another collection antiques and curios

Painted Sky is a live-in-the-studio recording featuring an all-acoustic set of (mostly) classic Strawbs material. These re-makes are stripped down to their essentials in terms of instrumentation, and even the band itself is reduced to the core trio of Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, and Chas Cronk. As such, the basic ingredients are simply acoustic guitars and vocals. The odd banjo is also present, but no keyboards or drums.

With the exception of two songs from Deja Fou (the most recent Strawbs studio release at the time of this recording) the selections are taken from the band's "golden era" during the first half of the 70's. Oh, How She Changed is the oldest tune included, going all the way back to the 60's and the band's self-titled debut. One highlight of the disc is the 14 minute, four part The Antique Suite, originally recorded live in 1970 and included on the classic Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios album.

Listening to this album is actually a very pleasant experience and the new arrangements of these old tunes makes it a worthy addition to a comprehensive Strawbs collection (like my own). However, even if surprisingly good taken for what it is, it is by no means essential and the average Prog fan will probably not need this.

Report this review (#937554)
Posted Sunday, March 31, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars The third in a series of albums from the mid 2000's Acoustic Strawbs trio featuring Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and a rejoining Chas Cronk replacing the recently departed Brian Willoughby. Recorded mainly to ingratiate the arrival of Cronk on 12 string acoustic guitar, bass and foot pedals, the group once again goes over past favorites, as well as a few new surprises such as a stellar all acoustic version of "The Antique Suite" first found on their live Just a Collection Antiques and Curios album as well as some very good versions of "Oh How She Changed", "Grace Darling", "Benedictus", and a good version of "Autumn", This version of "Autumn" features some washes of synthesized bass peddles from Cronk but is not as good as the version found on the previous acoustic album "Full Bloom". However, what makes this acoustic outing so pleasurable is that Cousins, Cronk and Lambert weave rich tapestries of these stellar song's melodies that almost weave a hypnotic spell over the listener. Another plus is the fantastic vocals of Lambert, who is light years ahead of co-founding member Toby Hooper, who he replaced for the Bursting At The Seems album. Lambert's touching and emotional vocals really compliment those of Cousins and makes "Oh How She Changed" and his verses in "The Antique Suite" so spectacular. His lead guitar playing is stellar, as usual, and he really is the star of this album. 4 stars seems about right for another great acoustic offering from the venerable Strawbs.
Report this review (#1867000)
Posted Monday, January 15, 2018 | Review Permalink

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