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Strawbs - Dancing To The Devil's Beat CD (album) cover



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Symphonic Team
2 stars The cycle is completed

While the previous The Broken Hearted Bride harked back to the glorious era of Hero And Heroine and Ghosts (the two albums that represent the progressive peak of Strawbs' long career), Dancing To The Devil's Beat instead goes all the way back to the band's humble Folk Rock beginnings in the late 60's and early 70's. This seems to have been quite deliberate as 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of the release of the band's self-titled debut album. The nostalgic booklet even features a picture of the band in 1969 and another one of them in 2009 right next to it, inviting the listener to evaluate how they have aged. A funny thing is that the 1969 picture features a certain Rick Wakeman (who was a member of Strawbs in their early days) and the 2009 picture features none other than Rick's son Oliver Wakeman who had just joined Strawbs for this album! The resemblance in uncanny and the whole setup is slightly humorous. The sleeve picture of an ice cream-eating dog is probably the worst in the band's whole career!

For me, the present album was a clear disappointment after the excellent and much more symphonic and progressive The Broken Hearted Bride from the previous year. As I said above, while that album reminded me of the most progressive era of band in the mid-70's, the present album harks back to the very early days when Wakeman senior was a member of the band. Maybe I am exaggerating a little bit to drive home a point, but it is probably right to say that the music here is Folk Rock rather than Prog Rock. Still, this is not a bad album as such and there are some nice moments. The few places where Wakeman junior gets to express himself stand out.

Approach this album with some caution unless you are a fan! 2008's The Broken Hearted Bride, and even 2004's Deja Fou and 2003's Blue Angel are better albums to start with if you want to discover latter day Strawbs.

Report this review (#239555)
Posted Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
3 stars Amazingly, Strawbs are now in one of the most prolific phases of a 40+ year career, and not just thanks to a deluge of live material. Barely a year after the release of "Broken Hearted Bride" comes this 2009 offering, and the only significant personnel change is the replacement of John Hawken with Oliver Wakeman on keys, and his style is not unlike his dad's. The retention of guest fiddler Ian Cutler provides continuity with "Bride", even if this is more of a straightforward folk rock album. Few overtly progressive tracks like "Call to Action" and "Through Aphrodite's Eyes" from the prior disk can be found within, though proggy touches are sprinkled throughout. That's really been the story of Strawbs for decades - we just keep hoping in vain for another "Hero and Heroine" or "Ghosts".

Both of the opening two cuts begin strongly but falter somewhat, particularly "Revenge Can be So Sweet", which changes not a whit in 5:17, and exposes Cousins' voice a bit more than is comfortable to anyone at this point. "Beneath the Angry Sky" actually hearkens back to the classic period but the verses lack the melodic trademarks, even if the chorus is as rousing as one could hope for. It also includes spirited soloing from both Wakeman and Lambert. "Copenhagen" is a sentimental acoustic ballad of the type we expect, and is augmented by Cutler's solo. But this is pure yet sophisticated folk music. The center piece of the album is the war narrative "Pro Patria Suite", a fine trilogy of tunes co-written by Wakeman who shines throughout. Cousins dusts of the banjo in part 1 and we get a choir for the final segment which is oh-so English sounding - a "Grace Darling" moment, but without the same fireworks. In fact, this is the essential problem of the disk - almost every track is good but only "Where Silent Shadows Fall" surpasses that mark, mostly thanks to its anthem chorus and dramatically orchestrated extended outro which seems part "Down By the Sea" and part "Layla", with a bit of Alan Parsons, and a cornet duet played by veterans.

Even the also-rans are decent. Lambert's "The Man Who Would Never Leave Grimsby" is sweet and a bit naive but does give us a break from the Dave Cousins bray. "The Ballad of Jay and Rose Mary" and the title cut expound upon the group's questionable interests in bluesy C&W and bluesy hard rock respectively, but the vocals are surprisingly well handled. Still, it's Wakeman's organ on the latter that give "creedence" to the piece. Finally, the group continues its reworking of one of their own classic tracks as the finale, this time their first A&M single, "Oh How She Changed", and the choice of Dave Lambert on lead voice and driving guitar is a wise one, as befits 40 years of hindsight, not to mention that similarly fitted Tony Hooper sang on the original.

Perhaps equal in overall quality to the last couple of studio albums, "Dancing" lacks in wholehearted progressive abandon and in major highlights. Still, the group's consistency at this late stage is bedeviling and worthy of 3 full stars.

Report this review (#242049)
Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Now, I have only been aware of Strawbs for a few months now, and having being interested by the band, I decided to purchase their new album.

So is it good?

Suprisingly yes, very good, in fact way better than I excpected.

Yes, this album really is a great album, and this marking their 40th anniversery, really shows that they haven't lost their touch.

At times Dave Cousin's voice can sound a wee bit strained and sound like Bowie in a 100 years, but he can suprise you.

And also, this album hosts one of the Wakeman Satanic spawn, Oliver.

And does he do a good job.

Yes a very good job, and don't hit me for saying this, but he out does his father. He really has an amazing talent, and I do at times find Rick to be annoying.

Alot of people may label this band as a poor man's Jethro Tull, but don't knock em until you've tried em.

1. Revenge (Can Be So Sweet) - Fantastic song. The repeated melody line is great and cheesy. The chorus has a very atmospheric Pink Floyd vibe to it. 10/10

2. Beneath The Angry Sky - Just an amazing song. Very catchy chorus and some great instrumentation. Fantastic keyboard solo from Oliver. 10/10

3. Copenhagen - Beautiful acoustic work. The folk atmosphere adds to the beautiful timbre of the song. 8/10

4. Pro Pratria Suite - The banjo work in this song is very beautifull. The keyboard melody over the banjo accompaniment in the first part is a beautifull counter melody. The piano work in the 2nd part is also very beautifull. The change in tones add to the dramatic nature of the song. 9/10

5. Where Silent Shadows Fall - Has a very millitry march feel to the song. Oliver really does outmatch his dad on this song. Beautifull mellotron work at the end. The orchestration is very beautifull but also very chessy. A great composition. 8/10

6. The Man Who Would Never Leave Grimsby - I do prefer Dave Lambert as a better singer, so I did favour this song a little more. Has a very Cat Stevens vibe to the song. Great chorus and some interesting lyrics. 9/10

7. The Ballad Of Jay & Rose Mary - Usually these types of songs annoy me, but this one was alright. The suave atmosphere was pulled off really well. Great key work in this song. 7/10

8. Dancing To The Devil's Beat - Some great organ work in this song. I like the very rocky tone to the song. David's vocals are actually suprisingly great. 8/10

9. Oh How She Changed - Quite sinister and dark. Love all the tone changes. An amazing song. I haven't heard the original recording though, so I have no frame of reference. 9/10

CONCLUSION: If you haven't tried Strawbs before, then you should, they taste grrrreat.

Report this review (#286515)
Posted Monday, June 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Another glimpse of heaven

"Dancing to the devil's beat" is the Strawbs (or just Strawbs) most recent album at time of writing. For a band which has been around so long, it really is astonishing that they continue to release albums on a regular basis, and that those albums continue to be of such a high quality. The line up has of course changed often in the intervening period, with Dave Cousins always being the common denominator. Here we have Cousin's long time friend Dave Lambert once again joining him, together with Strawbs stalwarts Chas Cronk and Rod Coombes. Rick's son Oliver Wakeman plays keyboards, Rick himself of course being a member of the band in their very early days.

This is very much an electric Strawbs outing, the first two tracks being admirably powerful with surging lead guitar and emotive choruses. "Copenhagen" slows things down though, Cousins demonstrating that he can still deliver sensitive vocals as well as he always did. The track took me back to around the time of "Hero and heroine" the violin of guest Ian Cutler being an added bonus.

The three part "Pro Patria Suite" tells a simple tale about two friends going off to war. The suite is structured in a similar way to "Autumn" and "Ghosts", the three parts blending well together to form a delightful whole. Although not part of the suite, the following "Where Silent Shadows Fall" feels like a natural coda. The track follows on both lyrically and musically, the reflective melody cumulating in a fine cornet led conclusion.

The intriguingly titled "The Man Who Would Never Leave Grimsby" is written and sung by Dave Lambert. The song is essentially about a musician who foregoes fame and fortune to remain in his home-town, but is reportedly also based around the story of a young Kenyian Strawbs fan's loyalty to his family.

"The Ballad of Jay and Rose Mary" paints a film noire picture, but the soft shuffle on which the track is based is out of placed here, and the song a misfit on the album. The title track is the most rock orientated of the set, Cousins doing all he can to keep up with the pounding rhythm. By no means the most subtle track on the album, but it makes for a nice contrast with the lyrically heavier material. Wakeman slips in a nice organ solo too.

The album closes with an updated rendition of the old Strawbs song "Oh how she changed" which way back then was their first ever single. Tony Hooper is not here to sing it this time, but Dave Lambert's take on it is excellent

In all, another superb album from the Strawbs, which finds them as creative as they ever were.

Report this review (#411975)
Posted Sunday, March 6, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Going out with a bang. 2009's Dancing To The Devils Beat will probably be the last album of original material recorded by the electric version of the Strawbs and it's a fitting finale to their prog and hard rock legacy. The album kicks off with the prog-ish Revenge (Can Be So Sweet) that's a direct carry over melodically and sonically from their last album The Broken Hearted Bride. The Eastern melody with fey electronic percussion is kicked awake with sharp cracking drums and buzzing eclectic guitar.

The band are not searching for a sound like they did on The Broken Hearted Bride but have arrived with a fully formed and decisive vision that carries over immediately on to the following hard rock song Beneath The Angry Sky. Both songs are topically about war and waste with drummer Rod Combes and guest keyboardist Oliver Wakeman (son of Rick) fully engaged in their construction, feel and outcome. Wakeman adds sympathetic keyboard work that enhances the songs without grandstanding and Coombes is back to his hard rocking self while the band revert to their old school multi layered sounds of choir and pleated harmonies to drive the songs home. Indeed, Beneath The Angry Sky even starts off with some banjo picking from Dave Cousins that adds color to the song without feeling folk-ish.

The group brake up the war and waste mayhem for the touching acoustic based song Copenhagen, an obvious tribute to the late great Sandy Danny. Then it's on to the prog suite song Pro Patria Suite, a typical three part Cousins song cycle with brilliant and poignant lyrics that's again enhanced by choir, keyboard orchestrations by Wakeman and touching cornets playing at the end by two guest musicians. The war and waste sentiments end with a salute to fallen soldiers on the following song Where Silent Shadows Fall, another epic sounding peice that could easily conclude the band's classic album Grave New World.

Dave Lambert is up next with the touching The Man Who Never Leave Grimsby remarking on the faith of a young fan of the group from poor country of Kenya. The song is not particularly progressive as are the three remainders, but all are convincingly passionate without sounding like retreads. The Ballad Of Jay And Rose Mary is actually a rare bluesy Film Noir themed song from Cousins that's a bit corny but still enjoyable before the group end the album with the rocking manic title track and then conclude with a dramatic electric remake of Oh, How She Changed.

My only complaint of this work is the brash modern sound of the album's recording production which is grating at times but it is the digital age after all. However, the sound is still more rounded and less shrill than that found on The Broken Hearted Bride. Farewell electric Strawbs and thanks for a great parting shot.

Report this review (#1178488)
Posted Friday, May 23, 2014 | Review Permalink

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