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Prog-Folk Team
4 stars It is rare to find a band from the 1960s or 1970s that can not only produce music that is near the equal of their heyday, but augment it with the maturity of the years, such that it scarcely sounds like retread. Strawbs have come close to this ideal with their last 2 albums, "Deja Fou" and now, "The Broken Hearted Bride". The main improvement over the 2004 release is that this is far more of a band effort. It sounds like everyone is participating all the time as opposed to just hearing the Acoustic Strawbs with a few embellishments. BHB is also of more interest to prog fans, largely because of two tracks, but then even in the mid 1970s the Strawbs were only known to include a couple of full blown epics on any given release.

Let's go down the list. Production A+ thanks to Chris Tsangarides who has helped out big acts like Malmsteen. Vocals A if you have acquired the taste for Dave Cousins, and if you haven't by now, God help you. Lyrics A+, can this sexagenarian write or what, and Dave Lambert has dramatically improved in that department since the 1970s. Arrangements A, with Rod Coombes being a powerhouse drummer even on a lovely ballad like "Too Many Angels", Lambert injecting much needed musical (if not lyrical) levity into his Cat Stevens-like "You Know as Well as I", and Chas Cronk trying out some new lite funk in his bass playing, and judicious keyboard embellishments by John Hawken throughout. The addition of Ian Cutler on fiddle bolsters one of the two epics, "Call to Action", with suitably middle eastern nightmarish motifs.

So we are looking at a 5 star masterpiece, right? Well, no, primarily because Strawbs have sacrificed their trademark melodic skill in the service of the above, some of the choruses are just a bit to repetitive and simplistic, otherwise interesting tracks like "Christmas Cheer" lack a real instrumental break, the title cut is clunky to the point of embarrassment (albeit lyrically brilliant), and the best track, "Aphrodite's Eyes", has a main riff that is more than reminiscent of Down By the Sea, even if the sung parts are the equal of any classic from "Hero" and "Ghosts", and perhaps the Strawbs best blend of ancient English folk and progressive rock yet attained. That is saying a lot, because few other bands can boast to even minimal success in this realm. I'm not talking "From the Witchwood" here, but full blown progressive Strawbs at their best.

Probably the weakest aspect is the inclusion of "We'll Meet Again Sometime" as the retro track in a hayseed C&W treatment, and the remaking of "Deep in the Darkest Night" (albeit a fine song) in a version inferior to that which featured Rick Wakeman on the 2003 "High Seas" collaboration between Cousins and Conny Conrad. That said, "Call to Action" also appeared on "High Seas" and the version here totally rocks like the Strawbs rarely have. Indeed, the band seems more confident instrumentally here than on "Ghosts".

It will never be the 1970s again, and many of us are grateful. The circumstances which made the Strawbs one of the most unique, even accessible, proponents of progressive rock have long slipped past, and with maturity has come more melodic complexity to shroud the simple beauty of their work on gems like "Bursting at the Seams". At the end of the day, this new Strawbs effort does far more to heal the musical heart than could legitimately be expected by any random reunion of wizened bespectacled proggers. 3.5 stars rounded up, for obvious reasons.

Report this review (#185854)
Posted Wednesday, October 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album holds some good and some very bad tracks at the same time.

This tendency is immediately noticeable when you compare the first two tracks: the opener Call To Action is a fine rocker with interesting Eastern influences (the same is felt during some sort of instrumental reprise at the end of the album under the form of Action Replay). It was already featured on High Seas (a Cousin / Conrad work) but it is completely revisited here. The follow- up Christmas Cheer is just one of those very dispensable Christian songs. I just can't stand the chorus. Press next.

Some personal elements are apparently included in the soft ballad Too Many Angels: it sounds a bit mellowish with these orchestrations but the song is not unpleasant. To change the pace, it was a good idea to place The Broken Hearted Bride right after Angels. Even if it is somewhat AOR oriented, it is quite conform to what the band has already achieved while willing to tackle the rock sound. Not too bad.

In terms of prog, the song which fully belongs to the genre is Through Aphrodite's Eyes. A long instrumental intro, fine and emotive guitar and a convincing Cousins (who wrote the song with Cronk) are raising this song to a high level. It is by far my favourite one. But it is alas, the single prog moment in here as well.

Deep In The Darkest Night is another song coming out of High Sea. Although the closing guitar part is crafted, I am not overwhelmed by this US oriented rock music. The worse is being reached with the country like You know As Well As I.

The only song signed by Chas Cronk alone (Everybody Knows) is a pleasant rock ballad. Strong melody and nothing mellow here. It is a solid song with some very melodic guitar lines. It is another good moment from this album.

Strawbs is not one of my preferred band but their almost forty years long career deserves all the respect. Hats off. It's the reason why I upgrade this average album to three stars.

Report this review (#189475)
Posted Sunday, November 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Action replay!

The Broken Hearted Bride is the album that fans of Strawbs' most progressive period (1973 to 1975) fans have been waiting for. It is easily the best and most consistent new Strawbs studio album since Ghosts which was released more than 30 years earlier! While most of the Strawbs albums released since then, most notably the previous one, Deja Fou, contained some very strong individual tracks but also a few bad ones, The Broken Hearted Bride is a more even effort. Everything here does not stand out as brilliant, but also nothing stands out as bad. And the album flows really well and there is a perfect balance between slower, mellower tracks and up-tempo ones.

The production of this album is far better than most previous albums. The drums in particular sound really good, and the vocals are not mixed too loud, as has been the case on some previous Strawbs records. The guitar sound is also really good here. Fiddle is the leading instrument on The Call To Action and the reprise Action Replay. Too bad they didn't use the Fiddle more, but it works really well on this song. Continuing where Deja Fou left off (NRG), there is a Far-Eastern flavour to this song - which I like!

Christmas Cheer (Everything Is Going To Be Alright) is perhaps the least good song on the album. But it is not bad at all and better than the weakest tracks on many other Strawbs albums, even from the 70's. The problem I have with it is that the (too?) catchy chorus is repeated a few times too many. Too Many Angels would have fitted very well on Deja Fou, it is a mellow, soft song with a slight jazzy feeling, mainly because of the drums. The title track, on the other hand, is a hard rocking song with good guitar work, great drums and a strong melody.

Shadowland is the first of two Dave Lambert compositions and it has a strong Procol Harum feeling to it; a slightly bombastic ballad with a symphonic organ sound and piano. Once again with a pretty good guitar solo.

The most progressive song is probably Through Aphrodite's Eyes. The style here is very close to The River/Down By The Sea. But I do not feel that this is a carbon copy of that classic Strawbs song. There are progressive touches on several other tracks as well. Deep In The Darkest Night, for example, has a quite Symphonic Prog-like ending, with a great guitar solo.

The two last proper songs, You Know As Well As I and Everybody Knows are almost pure modern pop songs. And the album does lose a bit of its momentum here. But they are not bad at all. The reprise of the Action-theme does not really add very much to the song itself, but it helps to tie the album together very nicely.

The last track on the CD should, I think, be considered as a bonus track and not as a part of the album itself. It is just a decent, but unneccesary re-make of an old Strawbs classic.

The Broken Hearted Bride is perhaps not an album that will blow every Prog fan away. But it is a nice addition to any collection especially if you like the Strawbs albums of the mid 70's, particularly like Ghosts and Hero And Heroine which is the best references for the kind of music this is.

Report this review (#198460)
Posted Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Don't get me wrong I am a huge Strawbs follower. Fond memories of seeing them play live in Retford, UK in 1997 and in Worcester, 1999. The realization to be finally see them playing their hearts out now 10 years ago was a dream come true. What struck me most was that, especially in 1999 when Dave Lambert has returned to the fold, was how quickley Dave Cousin's voice had deteriorated. Through no fault of his own, just plain passionate constant use throughout his musical career. Dave Cousin's had one of the finest unique sounding voices in prog. As unique as Peter Gabriel or even David Bowie. And a superb lyricist/poet as well. To hear him in his prime sing " Beside The Rio Grande" off Deep Cuts from 1976 is a jaw dropping experience. Where is this review going? Well post the Heartbreak Hill album sadly his voice has not held up for studio releases, sure the recordings have been smoothed out but as this was such an enormous factor when listening to the band in their prime one can't help feeling a bit disappointed. Dave Lambert also contributes to vocals and his case is not so valid as he was never the lead vocalist as such. What a great combination they make though. The Broken Hearted Bride is a fine effort and has the best line up Strawbs held together, being Coombes, Cronk, Cousins & Lambert with the amazing John Hawken assisting on keyboards.The songs are all pretty good, nothing redefining their immortal golden years other than their sheer passion and love of their music. The title track and and the simplistic " You Know as Well" standout as well as the Sandy Denny dedication and retrofit " We will Meet Again Sometime". Overall a good album and most enthusiasts will enjoy it.
Report this review (#295836)
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Even though the present album reminds me of the old "vintage" folk prog, regarding the early period, especially in its mood, it seems quite different...the "key" tune is "Call to Action", originally written for another work by Dave Cousins and Conny Conrad, entitled "High Seas"; but here it's realized in a strange version, which is enriched by means of the violin and other odd istrumentation. Nevertheless- unfortunately- such tune seems pre-recorded...instead I wonder if the overall sound is equal or anyway close to their classic evergreen "Hero and Heroine" and "Ghosts" or- once again- in a different way, if you note something new in the arrangement and in the spirit too! However It's difficult to express a definitive opinion about it (as it's typical, by considering the artistic value of their compositions in general...), but the first four tracks are quite essential within a collection of folk prog, being complex enough...I'm so curious about a different version of the same tunes with Rick Wakeman at the keybaords for example (if ever He would decide to change artistic direction and come back live on stage with them, perhaps as a special guest, one day...), despite the work by Chas Cronk, "coupled" with the supporting keybaords by Cousins is good, after all!!

At the end this album is quite essential within its particular genre, which is a bit far away from the polyphonic folk of the Renaissance, in the most progressive sense of the term I mean, but nevermind...You'll choose to check it out at least, in any case, even by erasing one star from the final score!!

Report this review (#296616)
Posted Sunday, August 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars This is the electric version of the modern Strawbs, and the lineup that produced some of weakest material of the band's discography in the mid-seventies albums 'Nomadness', 'Deep Cuts' and 'Burning for You'. This time around the group clicks quite well and while most of the tracks are neither progressive nor folk, the overall experience of listening to the album is a pretty good one.

Dave Cousins and Chas Cronk are reunited as a solid songwriting duo for three of the four brand new songs ("Through Aphrodite's Eyes", "Too Many Angels" and "Christmas Cheer") and between them account for all but the two Lambert-penned songs ("Shadowland" and "You Know as Well as I"), both of which are more bluesy, rock-oriented and less bombastic than most of the rest of the material except possibly Cousins' closer "We'll Meet Again Sometime".

These are longer songs than most of what the band had recorded over the prior three decades, with only one coming in under four and a half minutes and three clocking in at over six minutes each. Long does not equate to good of course, but does indicate the band took a bit more time in the studio to get things right than did the lineup on the 'Baroque & Roll' Acoustic Strawbs CD.

"Through Aphrodite's Eyes" with its multilayered keyboards and hard guitar riffs; the laconic "Too Many Angels" and its complex blend of acoustic guitar and keyboards; and the fiddle- accented and vaguely Eastern-sounding rhythm of "Action Replay" represent the closest the band would come to something akin to progressive music, but all the tunes are quite well- presented and worth at least a listen. Others like "Deep in the Darkest Night" and We'll Meet Again Sometime" skirt the edges of being magnificent but don't push hard enough into any sort of new musical territory to avoid being anything more than just more good (but not great) material heaped upon the huge Strawbs repertoire.

This is a better album than what most Strawbs fans, or fans of a forty year old band in general, should probably expect. Cousins and friends are clearly comfortable playing together and have honed their talents through decades of touring and recording to the point where I'm not sure they could make a terrible album if they tried. But they also didn't really push themselves much on this one either, so another three star effort it is and recommended simply because any band still around and viable after forty years deserves to be heard.


Report this review (#507057)
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Pleasant at times but pretentious. The Broken Hearted Bride from 2008 finds the Strawbs attempting to make a more electric and more prog sounding album then their previous release from 2004 titled Deja Fou. However, forcing an album to sound prog is not the same as creating music that is prog. Indeed, both bass player Chas Cronk and vocalist/guitarist Dave Cousins contribute keyboards to this album as well as long time keys man John Hawken which often results in a pea soup mix of 80's style electronic keys, sampling, programming and percussion. Particularly on the slow tempo songs Too Many Angels, Through Aphrodite's Eyes and Everybody Knows.

The album's second song Christmas Cheer with it's insecent disco (yes disco!) beat and abrasive chorus may be the worst song ever written by Cousins and the title track, despite Cousins' clever lyrics about a suicide bomber leaving his wife standing at the alter, is an AOR styled rocker with an annoying guitar riff that Bon Jovi would have envied. The following song Shadowland is another boring AOR tune this time written by guitarist Dave Lambert. Even Lambert's guitar is given a grandiose Gilmour/Rothery like tone on many of the songs which is unfitting for him. The shrill high EQ'ed sound production does not help matters and does Cousins raspy voice no favors.

To be fair, the opening song Call to Action and its reprise Action Replay are two excellent prog tunes with terrific Middle Eastern melodies and rythyms, but the pea soup songs along with Shadowland are merely pleasant listens that hardly make this album essential, but what is good on the album does make for a decent postcard from Strawbs to their fans. Luckily, the Stawbs would have one more good album up their sleeve for 2009 and would end their run of original albums on a high note.

Report this review (#1179732)
Posted Tuesday, May 27, 2014 | Review Permalink

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