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Strawbs - Dragonfly CD (album) cover

DRAGONFLY

Strawbs

 

Prog Folk

3.15 | 105 ratings

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SteveG
4 stars Dragonfly is an album that has gotten quite a few 2 and 3 star ratings on PA and frankly, it deserves more stars than that. A very folk based acoustic album, it's main short coming seems to be the lack of symphonic prog found on later albums like Grave New World and Hero And Heroine. In fact there's not a mellotron note to be found on Dragonfly as the Strawbs had not yet progressed that far with this their second album.

The progressive elements found on Dragonfly are subtle and covert despite it's pastoral demeanor. The lead off track "The Weary Song" is a folk gem and is very reminiscent of a Simon And Garfunkel song in both style and execution, with alternate guitar tuning and wonderful harmonizing from Dave Cousins and Tony Hooper. Both vocalists are noticeably toned down as opposed from the belting out both did on Strawbs' previous album, their eponymous debut, and Dragonfly is all the better for it. What sets the song apart is eerie cello accompaniment from new member Claire Neniz, along with treated electric lead guitar and various hand percussion instruments. It's a song that lyrically and musically puts the listener in the singer's brow beaten frame of mind. The title track "Dragonfly" is a song that the Incredible String Band would have envied with it's modal dulcimer, recorder accompaniment (played by producer Tony Visconti), stately cello, backwards cymbal effects, chiming hand instruments and hand percussion. Done in a time signature reminiscent of a medieval court dance, it's case where looking backwards musically is it's progressive edge. The magnificent bowed double bass is played by the Strawbs' forth member Ron Chesterman. (The group still did not have an electric bass player in the group, nor a drummer, at this juncture.)

"I Turn My Face To The Wind" is another introspective Cousins song that conjures up feelings of walking a deserted English moor, feeling lonely, in the cold driving rain. Again, all acoustic with alternate guitar tunings, so in vogue in the world of late 60s British folk music, with Miss Deniz adding mournful cello. A guesting Rick Wakeman (he would not join the Strawbs until after the album was released) adds stately but unassuming piano that really drives home the song's uncompromising melancholy feel. "Josephine, For Better Or For Worse" is a beautiful and moving love song with stellar call and response type vocals form both Cousins and Hooper in the song's lilting chorus along with mournful cello from Miss Deniz.

Breaking the spell of lonesomeness is the gorgeous "Another Day" with an sunshine melody and more wonderful harmonizing from Cousins and Hooper as well as alternating lead vocals. "Till The Sun Comes Shining Through" is another upbeat song that doesn't work quite as well but has it's merits with a wonderfully baroque feel supplied by more recorder. "Young Again" is another of sentimental laments that follows the same acoustic formulas and is almost as good as "Another Day", with Hooper taking a solo lead vocal and it's one of his best on a Strawbs record. "The Vision Of The Lady In The Lake", the album's only true progressive song, is a long narration devoid of the standard verse, chorus, verse, chorus sung structure is quite stunning in it's dramatic unfolding. The song utilizes all of the past noted instrumentation (including the returning electric lead guitar found on the albums' first track) along with the album's only full drum accompaniment. Starting out mellow, as expected, the music becomes more sinister in tone as the bizarre cautionary tale unfolds towards a shocking ending, expertly conveyed by Mr. Cousins in a dramatic but unpretentious fashion. The album's sound mix is quite clumsy at times but that doesn't detract from album's listening pleasure. And that's coming from a retired sound engineer.

All in all, Dragonfly is not very progressive overtly, but it's a fine album that I'm sure most fans of prog folk would absolutely adore given it's stellar and utterly unique folk rock basis. Another plus is the greatly improved songwriting of Dave Cousins, who dropped his whimsical narratives found on the group's debut album and turned to more moving and introspective themes.

The 2008 A&M CD edition has a few bonus tracks with the two featured BBC sessions being quite good. The group reprise the beautiful "Another Day" and it's better than the album cut as the recording is more balanced and less sonically dry with added reverb that is so missing on the entire Dragonfly album. The BBC session version of "We'll Meet Again Sometime", a song the group has been licking around for years, is the group's definitive version due to it's stripped down arrangement. All in all Dragonfly is a fine 4 star album.

SteveG | 4/5 |

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