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Strawbs - Strawbs CD (album) cover

STRAWBS

Strawbs

 

Prog Folk

3.15 | 84 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars A strong statement of intent

For the Strawbs first official album (excluding their work with Sandy Denny which was retrospectively released some years later), we have to go way back to 1969. Back then, the band was an acoustic trio (even the bass here is a double bass, not a guitar) consisting of David Cousins, Tony Hooper and Ron Chesterman. Cousins and Hooper share vocal and song writing duties, Cousins being the dominant partner. The band were the first to sign to the UK arm of A&M records. In an ironic twist, the album they originally submitted was deemed too "pop", the record company insisting that they record some more progressive material.

The album has many fine tracks, offering a good indication of where the band were heading. The folk influences are strong, with acoustic instruments dominant, but there are some more rock orientated pieces.

The opening track, "The man who called himself Jesus" is a strange tale set in the present which reflects on how society might react if Jesus, (or someone claiming to be him) was to return. The song was written by Cousins following an experience a friend of his had in Copenhagen, Denmark. While his friend working in a shop there, a man walked in an introduced himself as "Jesus". This got Cousins thinking about the fact that Jesus had (according to Christian belief) indicated he would return one day, and he (Cousins) wondered how Christ would be able to convince people of his authenticity. The track was a controversial selection both for the first track on the album and as a single, being quickly banned from broadcast by the BBC.

"Pieces of 79 and 15" has some fine unaccredited mellotron, while the early version of "Tell me what you see in me" here has a slightly eastern feel. The song would be completely transformed decades later into one of the bands most powerful numbers ever. "Or am I dreaming" also contains enhanced orchestration, the track having a Simon and Garfunkel like relaxed but upbeat mood.

"Where is this dream of your youth" is one of the more ambitious pieces, but for the definitive version of the song look to the "Antiques and curios" album, where Rick Wakeman hijacks the song with a lengthy organ solo. The closing song "The battle" is a complete story in 11 verses. There is perhaps a nod to Bob Dylan in the style of the composition, but the song is a strong statement by the band which whets the appetite for the albums which follow. Once again, the song benefits from significant supplementary instrumentation.

While the acoustic basis of the album inevitably leads to the music being described as folk orientated, there is more to "Strawbs" than is at first apparent. The songs are wonderfully composed both in terms of lyrics and melodies with underlying complexities which cannot be simply dismissed as folk music. "Strawbs" may be the start of the journey, but it is nevertheless a wonderful, album in its own right. Its importance in the history of prog folk should not be underestimated either.

RIP Ron Chesterman, who sadly passed away while I was preparing this review.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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