Esoteric Antenna [Release date 03.11.17]
What do we know about Strawbs? Well, their origins go back to the mid-1960s, they’ve covered folk, prog and pop stylings and are perhaps best remembered for the song ‘Part Of The Union’ which was a Top 5 hit in 1973. Guitarist Dave Lambert joined the band in 1972 but a number of line-up changes – which had seen the likes of Rick Wakeman and Blue Weaver on keyboards at various times – always bedevilled the band’s continuity.
By 1974 Cousins and Lambert had enlisted Chas Cronk on bass (who appears on this album) and the band released the highly regarded ‘Hero and Heroine’. Current drummer Tony Fernandez originally joined the band in 1977 and had previously worked with Rick Wakeman.
More recently the band in various guises have toured both in acoustic and electric format. Now, with the latest album they are joined by Iona guitarist Dave Bainbridge. It is perhaps Bainbridge’s contribution that has provided the spark as he co-writes half the pieces (including two excellent instrumentals) whilst contributing keys and guitar.
Strawbs in their later, more prog, mode were sometimes compared to the likes of Moody Blues and even Supertramp. ‘The Ferryman’s Curse’ continues the acoustic pastoral vibe infused with occasional bursts of more frenetic guitar. It’s an easy and rewarding listen with highlights ‘The Nails From The Hands Of Christ’, ‘The Familiarity Of Old Lovers’, Lambert’s showcase ‘The Ten Commandments’ and the title track.
I would liken this release to that of Procol Harum’s latest where the band successfully update their sound whilst maintaining the key ingredients that made them interesting in the first place. In the Strawbs case, the lyrics are a strongpoint and whilst Dave Cousins’ vocals may alienate some they are at least distinctive and suit the material well.
In any listening we should cut this band of essentially septuagenarians some slack. They seem re-energised, especially by Bainbridge’s input, and the consistency of this album is impressive. ****
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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