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Strawbs - Ghosts CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.02 | 183 ratings

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4 stars Dave Cousins and Company managed to pull off a first with 'Ghosts', namely keeping the same band lineup together for a second consecutive studio album. They even brought back Claire Deniz from the 'Dragonfly' days for a spot of cello. The recording sessions for 'Ghosts' began late spring the year after 'Hero and Heroine' and musically the sound is much the same with plenty of Mellotron, piano and organ and a very accessible blend of acoustic and electric guitar. The emphasis is much more on blues-based rock rhythms and riffs than their earlier work, presumably in deference to the U.S. market the group was trying to make inroads with in light of their waning popularity back home in Britain.

'Ghosts' has been described as a darker album than the band's prior work and musically there is some validity to this, particularly the use of more minor chords and heavier, more rock-driven tempos on tracks like "The Life Auction" and the second half of "Starshine/Angel Wine". But lyrically Cousins and Chas Cronk, who wrote and sang much of the material, tended to focus more on relationships and in a mostly positive way though the meaning of several songs tends to get muddled a bit in the overall musical mood.

"The Life Auction" is admittedly a rather dark theme, that of sorting and parting with the material effects of a recently departed loved one. Not the sort of thing that tends to get audiences toes tapping, but a very emotive and engaging song nonetheless.

"Lemon Pie" offers a rather personal insight into Cousins' relationship with his then- girlfriend (later wife), while the opening title track is something of a child's lullaby lyrically. And Cronk seems to combine both a love song and a sort of life yearning on "Starshine/ Angel Wine".

The first half of the album is much more commercially oriented with the tempo-shifting 'Angel Wine', the straight-ahead rocker "Where Do You Go (When You Need a Hole to Crawl In)" and the poppish "Lemon Pie". On the back side Cousins, John Hawken and Dave Lambert put together the more progressive, multi-part "The Life Auction" that uses piano and electric guitar riffs to accent rolling drum fills and numerous tempo shifts for a track that seems to go on even longer than its six and a half minutes.

After that things get a bit more acoustic and laid-back, even on Lambert's somewhat contradictory love song lyrically somewhat in the vein of Boston's "Man I'll Never Be". Cousins brings the mood way down on his nostalgic "You and I (When We Were Young)" with moody organ and acoustic guitar, while the closing "Grace Darling" (also a Cousins composition) takes a step back in time to earlier, baroque-folk times for the band complete with a church pipe organ and choral arrangement. The band wouldn't record too many more like this one, and by the time 'Nomadness' released they had pretty much settled on a more commercially-oriented rock direction that would remain until years later after the breakup and into various reformations in the eighties and nineties.

While Cousins' personal life was a bit more settled during this period he was also having health problems and during the sessions was recovering from a spinal tap procedure that was part of his treatment for a suspected brain tumor. He spent much of the time in the studio on his back, exerting himself between rest periods to play and sing his parts on the various songs. This may account for some of the darker mood on 'Ghosts' than what can be heard on previous records.

I personally find this to be the Strawbs album I'm most likely to play today, and count it as my favorite of theirs even with the more commercial sound and comparative lack of progressive folk influence. It's not a perfect record, but has a overall character that is quite attractive and a cohesion that most of the following records would lack. For that reason I have to say this is another four star affair, and I would recommend this first for anyone who has not previously discovered the Strawbs and essential for any fan of progressive folk music.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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