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Strawbs - From The Witchwood CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.02 | 246 ratings

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4 stars Many years have passed since I bought my first "From the Witchwood" LP, and still don't know how to catalogue it. Is this album Folk/Prog, Celtic/Prog, Psychedelic/ Folk or simply folk with some progressive escapes? I'm not the person to answer this questions, the only thing I can assure is that Strawbs has influences of all those genres and that the music has great quality, it's that kind of albums I can't take from the CD player of my car for several weeks each time it gets there.

Many people valuate "From the Witchwood" because it was the last Wakeman experience with the band before he joined Yes, but that's unfair, Dave Cousins voice is really beautiful and ideal for this soft kind of pastoral music and of course John Ford's bass is simply outstanding, I'm sure Strawbs would have succeeded even if Rick never joined them.

Rick Wakeman's work is simply amazing, not in the sense we're used to (with long and incredible solos and being almost a second front man) but because he worked for the band leaving his personal ambitions behind, only in determined tracks as "The Hangman and the Papist" the listener realizes the role he's going to assume in future projects.

"From the Witchwood" starts with two very folksy tracks "Glimpse of Heaven" and "Witchwood", tracks in which the band develops the atmosphere that will be prevalent in all the album, both very good tracks even though not outstanding.

"Thirty Days" has a sound that reminds Hindu music, specially because of the oriental sitar listened along the track, this Hindu influence doesn't let us forget the psychedelic roots of Strawbs, something very common in the late 60's early 70's with bands that were able to try new paths but without leaving behind all the Psychedelic traces.

"Flight" is a track that always reminds me of the Beatles song "Sun King" (Abbey Road), the chorus are very characteristic of Beatles Psychedelic era, and again the sitar makes that sensation even stronger. Extremely beautiful and soft track.

Now is the turn of the best track of all the album and probably the only 100% progressive, "The Hangman and the Papist", seems that Wakeman has spent the first four tracks to show what he's capable of, the keyboards introduction gives us an idea of how his sound will develop in the next couple of years. But that isn't all, the lyrics are incredibly strong and dramatic (A hangman that finds the next victim is his own brother) and Dave cousins voice adds more dramatics. Music goes in crescendo with a perfect drumming by Richard Hudson that create the effect of the prisoner marching towards the last meeting with his brother. The song ends abrupt as when a prisoner falls to his death Simply a masterpiece of music and concept.

"Sheep" is pure British Psychedelia, the keyboards (sounding as Farfisa Organ) are simply breathtaking, in the middle the change to a softer tune is totally dramatic, but Rick maintains the original atmosphere with the keyboards played at a lower volume.

With "Canon Dale" I can feel another change, even though the softer side prevails, Rick adds a lot of progressive atmosphere with wonderful keyboards, sounding more like in his solo projects (specially Criminal Record) than in his Yes years.

"The Shepard" is a track that returns to the pastoral sound, the sensation of peace is simply refreshing. Again I can feel some Beatles influence, specially in the long vocal sections effect that is absolutely rewarding and only cut by short keyboard passages in which Rick reminds the listener he is mainly a progressive keyboardist playing in a folk band.

"In Amongst the Roses" is a very delicate 100% folk tune where the mixture of voices reminds me of "Songs from the Woods" by Jethro Tull (Even though this track was released 6 years before than Tull's song), the acoustic guitar accentuates the bucolic feeling, beautiful and refreshing track, ideal to listen at 6:00 pm after a hard day of work when you hate everybody, changes your mood in a matter of seconds.

"I'll Carry On Besides You" is another wonderful folk tune, not as calmed as the previous you can feel the power of the vocals drums and piano, almost as a Celtic hymn, the electric guitar solo in the middle of the track is simply outstanding and near the end again Wakeman adds some psychedelic atmosphere.

The A&M re-issue has a bonus track "Keep the Devil Outside", a good track but it's clearly out of it's natural environment, definitely anybody will discover it was not recorded to be a part of this recording, in other album would have sounded much more adequate.

I believe "From the Witchwood" is almost a masterpiece because Strawbs had evolved up to a point where they ceased to be only a folk band and gave their first step towards a progressive future.

Would wish to rate the album with 5 stars but being honest I believe they deserve only 4 solid stars because there are a couple of weaker tracks, despite the rating I still believe "From the Witchwood" is absolutely essential but not a complete masterpiece.

Ivan_Melgar_M | 4/5 |


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