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




Prog Folk

3.30 | 40 ratings

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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.

kenethlevine | 3/5 |


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