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Strawbs - The Ferryman's Curse CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.13 | 52 ratings

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5 stars I have always had a soft spot for the Strawbs , even forcing me to anoint ''Hero and Heroine'' as my all-time numero uno! Many other fine albums litter their stellar career , indefatigably led by David Cousins' delectable voice and sharp ,well-crafted lyrics as he is quite the story-teller. It has been quite a revelation to listen to this, their latest opus and it is a truly splendid affair. Themes are clearly spiritual in nature, perhaps even a tad religious, a trait that has adorned many previous works from this classic prog band.

From the opening symphonic notes, you just cannot help to be reassured that this might just be a winner and the tone is immediately stamped with one of their very finest pieces yet, the glorious ''the Nails from the Hands of Christ''. Thumping bass from master bassist Chas Cronk sets the pace, a poignant tirade of incredible passion and euphoria. Dave Lambert shines particularly with some chiseled slashes of guitar genius, pushed along by stalwart drummer Tony Fernandez as well as sturdy and pulsating keyboards from master-musician Dave Bainbridge (of Iona -fame , as well as some amazing solo works). His input is also compositional, adding his mark on a half of the tracks . But old man Cousins steals the show with a mastery of tone and urgency , a philosophy of singing he will maintain throughout this sparkling album.

Two drop-dead gorgeous ballads ensue, a perfect platform for the voice to shine, as the music holds the fort in masterful control. ''The Song of Infinite Sadness'' is a crushingly poignant piece , anointed with crystalline acoustic guitars and lush mellotron strings , an often deadly combination. David vocalizes like only he can, sweet melancholy and breathless inspiration in a hushed yet anguished delivery. This would have fitted nicely on a classic album such as ''Ghosts''. Sheer delight. Another world-class moment is reached on ''The Familiarity of Old Lovers'', a sensational slice of dark and folky symphonics, the beauty of the subject matter is only eclipsed by the brooding music , expertly guided and extraordinarily presented. The strings weep seductively as Lambert flicks his wrist with unabated power , carving delicious sounds from his electric guitar, very proggy and profound.

''When the Spirit Moves'' is an extended and heavily orchestrated affair, deliberately gentle at first and gradually swept up in massive symphonics, as Cousins heightens the tone , passionate and committed. Tubular bells add a holy majesty to the arrangements as it soars towards the heavens.

''The Ten Commandments'' is a Dave Lambert piece and as is often case with him, it provides a rockier, more countrified twang, his voice less nasal , sounding a bit like Steve Winwood at times and his guitar playing simple and effective. Hammond organ rolls along like a Muscle Shoals river, giving this track a breath of fresh air.

A return to brooding prog-folk compositions , which this group does so well, with the brief instrumental ''The Reckoning'' , highlighted by Bainbrige's delicate piano and keyboards. This serves to introduce another cracker epic , the delirious title track, which is an arch-typical Strawbs classic, a pulsating story recalling Charon and Styx with musical oomph, beastly organ blasts , booming bass and drums and tortuous electric guitars. Cousins relates with zealous passion , screeching, squealing and hurling terrifying words as if his life depended on it. The suspense weaves back down to earth, just an excuse to explode once again, offering the riveting coup de grace. Masterful!

A sweet and bucolic respite from the previous angst, ''Bats and Swallows'' offers a musical breeze that nevertheless focuses on the cheery lyrics and the playful guitar adornments. ''Rosemary and sage'' rekindles images of a bridge over troubled water, but in a more modern context.

Ratchet up the mood with the anthemic ''We Have the Power'' , a stellar message of hope, honour, promise and rebirth. It may serve as a perfect song to illustrate the current viral situation the earth is fighting. Just reading the lyric sheet, you cannot help but visualize the parallels . ''It's in our hands'' , he says. Indeed it is. Make sure you keep washing them.

4.5 blessed returns

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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