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Strawbs - A Taste of Strawbs CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.72 | 12 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars Wholesome and Delicious

The Strawbs have finally received the boxed set treatment, and not before time. This is a lavish 4 CD set (5 if you get one of the first 1,000 copies) spanning their entire career from their earliest days as the Strawberry Hill Boys, to the current Acoustic and Electric Strawbs. Also gathered in are various spin off projects, most featuring Dave Cousins, but some on which he does not appear. While a sticker on the box boasts that virtually all the tracks appear on disc for the first time, over half of them will be familiar to fans of the band. The versions here are demos, live recordings, performances for radio and so forth.

The songs are presented chronologically, giving a wonderful overview of the band's transition from a folk outfit through many guises, the most significant of which is their early 1970's prog folk sojourn.

Disc one opens with a few folk songs by the Strawberry Hill Boys and Dave Cousins on his own, then moves on to the brief but memorable time when Sandy Denny recorded with them. 1968's single "Oh how she changed" already hinted at the prog direction the Strawbs would follow, Tony Visconti's orchestral arrangement giving the song a powerful dynamic. The single, which was backed by "Or am I dreaming" which also features here, was produced by Gus Dudgeon. A&M were so impressed with his work for the Strawbs, he was assigned to produce a young Elton John's work, and the rest, as they say, is history. The extracts from the band's first album include some spoken links between the tracks which were dropped before it was released.

Disc one takes us up to "From the witchwood", via plenty more outtakes and alternate versions. "RMW" is a feature spot for Rick Wakeman during his time with the band. The final track "Sheep" is taken from a BBC "In concert" recording which turned out to be the last time Wakeman worked with the band. He had already been rehearsing with Yes, but still makes this performance of one of the Strawbs finest songs quite remarkable. The rendition of the song is essentially the same as the album version right up to the usual ending. Wakeman then takes over with a 7 minute romp on the organ.

Disc 2 takes us from "Grave new world" through to the "Nomadness" album from 1975, via a fine collection of largely familiar songs in alternate guises. These include a surprisingly delicate solo version of "The winter and the summer" by Dave Lambert, and Dave Cousins demos of tracks such as "Out in the cold" and "Round and round" from "Hero and heroine". There's also a poor quality recording of "Grace darling" sung in French.

Disc 3 features a full band version of "Blue angel", a lengthy suite which originally featured on Cousin's only solo album. This is taken from unreleased sessions the band recorded after they had moved to Deep Purple's Oyster records. While the mood is predominantly acoustic on this disc, "Midnight" is one of the hardest songs the band have recorded. It was intended for the "Deadlines" album, but omitted. Rick Wakeman returns for a TV performance of "The hangman and the papist" in 1983, reworkings of another couple of tracks from "From the witchwood" following on. If anything, this "Hangman.." is even more dramatic and troubling than the original.

The final disc covers the period from 1990 to date. While the 90's were a turbulent time for the band, the many re-unions of various combinations of past and present members offers a fine diversity to the music. Of particular interest is an "Extravaganza on a theme of Strawbs" by journeyman keyboard player Don Airey. The rendition of the title track from "Hero and heroine" is taken from the band's 30th anniversary concert. Apart from the numerous former band members on stage, Adam Wakeman makes his first appearance with them (how many bands have boasted a father and son in their history), and a spirited if unplanned violin performance by Ric Sanders (Fairport Convention).

The bonus disc, "Tastebuds" was only included with 1000 copies of the box set. It includes further rare tracks from the entire period covered by the box, concluding with a superb live rendition of "The river/down by the sea".

The excellent booklet which accompanies the set contains detailed information about every track. Information about the tracks on the bonus disc can be found on the band's website.

With Dave (or David as he is mainly referred to here) Cousins being closely involved in compiling this collection, and indeed supplying many of the recordings, this is very much a labour of love. With so many of the bands finest tracks here, almost always in a different form to that which we originally came to know, this is both a gathering of their greatest works, and a collectors paradise of rare and unheard material. "A taste of Strawbs" is an essential purchase for anyone who enjoys the music of this wonderful band.

Easy Livin | 5/5 |


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