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Strawbs - Painted Sky CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.85 | 16 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Oh how they changed (the arrangements)

In recent times, (The) Strawbs have divided their live performances and recordings between Electric Strawbs and Acoustic Strawbs. It is the latter who recorded this album, the line up consisting of a trio of Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk. Nominally a live album, the set contains extracts of two live in the studio performances in 2004 and 2005 with the album title being taken from the studios in California where the "gigs" took place.

A quick glance at the track list reveals that this is not an album of new material, but of new versions of classic songs from the band's history. These songs had at the time of recording been recently added to the repertoire of Acoustic Strawbs, so the opportunity was taken to capture these interpretations for posterity.

Perhaps the first thing to notice is that while the songs were recorded live, there is no audience as such, the recordings benefiting from the studio facilities available to capture the sound. The crystal clear recording of the acoustic instruments brings an unexpected warmth and depth to the album that, despite the limitations of a three man line up, boasts an admirable diversity of moods.

The tracks represent a good if eclectic cross section of the band's work, starting with their first single "Oh How She Changed" and including two of their epic suites. Dave Cousins' voice is as unique and distinguished as ever, his often emotional delivery still sending a quiver down the spine. Songs such as "Grace darling" sound remarkably fresh, and while I don't think they will ever top the symphonic and operatic splendour of the ("Ghosts") original, the version of that song here is superb nonetheless. "Shine on silver sun" is pared back to a slightly melancholy ballad with fine harmonies.

The 14 minute "The antique suite" was only ever available as a live recording, first appearing on "Just a collection of antiques and curios". In reality it is a suite of four unconnected songs which have become four quarters of the greater whole. Highlights here include the Dave Lambert vocal on "We must cross the river". The sublime "Benedictus" is the least different of the songs, since it was primarily an acoustic number anyway, but even here the paring back of the arrangement is evident. I love how the acoustic guitar sings on the intro to "Midnight sun". The gentle, relaxed atmosphere brings out the full beauty of the melody.

Two tracks which appear together, "Cold steel" and "If" were new to the "Deja fu" album released in 2004. As such, they do not really fit well within this collection of otherwise highly familiar songs. Both are fine well performed tracks, although personally I do not feel the former is on a par with its peers. The album closes with the epic "Autumn" from "Hero and heroine". Initially, the piece is barely recognisable, the symphonic opening of the original being replaced by some wonderful picked acoustic guitar. It's only when Cousins' voice breaks in that we settle into the familiar three parts of this magnificent work.

It appears that the track list for this release was subject to a number of changes before it was finalised, with some other classics being omitted. What we have though is a magical journey through some of the Strawbs best songs. I would urge anyone with an interest in the band's music to do themselves a favour and discover them through this wonderful release. To do so will be the first step on a wonderful journey of discovery.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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