STRAWBS – Bursting at the Seams – (A&M) – 1973

Sorry to any of you prog folk rockers out there but, I've always been ignorant of the Strawbs … I think I had one of their 60s albums once … but I assumed that punk was invented to do away with stuff like this. 

Allmusic says this about them: "One of the better British progressive bands of the early '70s, the Strawbs differed from their more successful compatriots — the Moody Blues, King Crimson, Pink Floyd — principally in that their sound originated in English folk music, rather than rock. Founded in 1967 as a bluegrass-based trio called the Strawberry Hill Boys by singer/guitarist Dave Cousins, the group at that time consisted of Cousins, guitarist/singer Tony Hooper, and mandolinist Arthur Phillips, who was replaced in 1968 by Ron Chesterman on bass. That same year, the group — now rechristened the Strawbs, and doing repertory well beyond the bounds of bluegrass music — briefly became a quartet with the temporary addition of Sandy Denny, who stayed long enough to record a relative handful of tracks with the group on the Hallmark label before joining Fairport Convention".  

"Originated in English folk" err "bluegrass based" … is there an inconsistency in there ? Despite the partial Celtic origins of bluegrass I'm not sure what that means. In any event the music is a sort of soft rock with folky overtones (regardless of the folky origins) and some prog rock aspirations. They certainly are not as English folk as "Fairport Convention" or "Lindisfarne", on this album at least. To my ears they come over as an arty English Eagles with all the negativity that implies. That also perhaps explains their success in America in the 70s …
 
It seems that this (their fifth album) is their best album though some prog rock heads and Strawbs purists see it as the first step in the slippery slope into radio friendly pop. Certainly the ever-changing line-up gives credence to the suggestion that the sound is based around a central core and members were recruited not for longevity but perhaps market considerations.
 
For completists here are the band members:
 
Dave Cousins (vocals, guitar, banjo, 1967-80, 1983-present), Talking John Berry (double bass, 1967), Arthur Phillips (vocals, mandolin, 1967), Sandy Denny (vocals, guitar, 1967-68), Ron Chesterman [aka Nobby] (bass, double bass, 1967-70), Sonja Kristina (vocals, 1967-68), Tony Hooper (guitar, vocals, 1968-72, 1983-93), Claire Deniz (cello, 1969), John Ford (bass, vocals, 1970-73, 1983-85, 1999-2004), Rick Wakeman (keyboards, 1970-71), Lindsay L. Cooper (cello, double bass, 1970), Richard Hudson (percussion, drums, vocals, 1970-83), Blue Weaver (keyboards, 1971-73, 1993-98), Dave Lambert (vocals, guitar, 1972-78, 1999-present), Chas Cronk (bass, guitar, vocals, 1973-80, 2004-present), John Hawken (keyboards, 1973-75), John Mealing (keyboards, 1975-78), Rod Coombes (drums, vocals, 1973-77), Robert Kirby (keyboards, 1975), Tony Fernandez (drums, 1977-95), Roy Hill (vocals, guitar, 1978), Brian Willoughby (guitar, 1978-2004), Andy Richards (keyboards, 1978-80), John Knightsbridge (guitar, 1980), Bimbo Acock (saxophone, flute, 1980), Chris Parren (keyboards, 1984-92), Rod Demick (bass, 1985-93), Don Airey (keyboards, 1993), Paul Wiffen (lead guitar, 1994)
 
This album only contained the italicized above.
 
I don't care if there is a cast of thousands, gentle soft rhythms, or good playing what I find difficult to swallow is the pretentiousness of the lyrics. And here they are as stinky pretentious as any number of post-Barrett Pink Floyd songs but without the straight faced pomp to put them over. That may be a bit harsh but there is a level of strained seriousness here that needs to be kicked. I'm not totally sure what the factor is that distinguishes say, Bruce Springsteen's psycho sexual, potentially strained serious ruminations on cars, streets and the night from the Strawbs gloomy mediations but one is more palatable than the other … I think it's because the latter sounds like an aural version of window dressing whereas Springsteen, for all his bombast, has delineated characters and people to race in his cars, on streets at night …
 
I've only given this album the once through … I will give it another go
 
Tracks (best in italics)
  • Flying – Cousins – someone or something is "flying to be free again" … they're not flying quick enough to get away from this though.
  • Lady Fuchsia – Ford, Hudson – for fuck sake just say purple lady? Anyway, the vocal harmonies are nice and the lead guitar is awful …
  • Stormy Down – Cousins – this could be the result of some unholy alliance of Jethro Tull, Van Morrison and Cat Stevens … still it's boppy …
  • Down by the Sea – Cousins – someone has ripped off the intro to this in the last ten years or so but I don't know who (maybe Nirvana?). Catchy.
  • The River – Cousins some David Bowie "Hunky Dory" era overtones but the lyric kills me …
            I made a sideways motion
            Turning a new leaf
            The single minded miner's girl
            Was there to share my grief
            I shivered in the butter wind
            Three times the cockerel crowed
            I waited for the river
            But the river did not flow.
 
            An autumn turned to silver
            Winter turned to gold
            The weatherman said dress up
            Oh but I did not feel the cold
            Kids waited with toboggans
            As I sheltered from the snow
            I waited for the river
            But the river did not flow.
 
            I will drink the milk from you breasts
            Meld myself to you
            Collect the valley lilies
            The worshippers once strew
            My body aches with hunger
            Yet your belly has to grow
            I waited for the river
            But the river did not flow.
  • Part of the Union – Coleman, Ford, Hudson – poppy and I like the sentiment (and the sentiment is slightly sarcastic) despite the fact that today unions in the west have become stooges of the State and quite reactionary. Though the alternative is a lot worse. Very much in the Kinks mould (they were already doing this type of material). 
  • Tears and Pavan – Cousins, Ford, Hudson – where's my maypole … this is some ridiculous medieval type ditty with hand claps. I can see Danny Kaye coming in off side screen carrying his vessel with the pestle and his chalice from the palace.
  • The Winter and the Summer – Lambert – groan.
  • Lay Down – Cousins – groan and more groan.
  • Thank You – Cousins, Weaver – not sure what this is.
And…

I shouldn't have bothered with that second go.

Thank you punk*
 
Chart Action
 
US
Singles

Album

#121, 1973

England
Singles

Lay Down, #12, 1972

Part of the Union, #2,1973
Album
#2, 1973
 
Sounds
 
Flying
live again (Jimmy Saville as compere I believe) … he would be hounded out of work today …
 
Tears and Pavan
live
The Winter and the Summer
live
live 2007
 
Lay Down
live
 
Review
 
 
Bio
 
 
Website
 
 
Trivia
 
Other Comments
 
*for doing away with this and giving us options.
 
(originally posted: 05/12/2010)
what Frank is listening to #186 – STRAWBS – Bursting at the Seams – (A&M) – 1973

About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on franklycollectible@gmail.com though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at http://www.franklycollectible.com Cheers
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