In the past years we’ve seen a lot of artists from the glorious 60s and 70s suddenly back in the studio and recording new material. Most have fallen flat and others have succeeded to some degree. Mr. Dave Cousins, one of progressive folk/rock’s finest voices and writers has packed us with a double punch. First he releases something very decent with Rick Wakeman (“Hummingbird”) last year, and this year he’s back with one of the Strawbs classic line-ups from their most progressive period in the early seventies. Cousins is joined on guitar by long time collaborator Brian Willoughby and Dave Lambert. Blue Weaver is back on keys joining Andy Richards and Cousins. Bass duties go to Chas Chronk and Rod Demick. There are three drummers; the classic Richard Hudson, Rod Combes, and Tony Fernandez. Special guests include Mary Hopkins and Maddy Prior on vocals.
And now for the material. On first listen, I was convinced this record was not up to the same standards as “Hummingbird”. It had many of the same weaknesses – old material re-recorded, a sugary new-age sound on some songs, and a variety of songs that flirt with Cousin’s progressive rock roots but don’t fully commit to them.
However, I’m pleased to say that something made me keep coming back to the CD for another listen, and another, and another. Every song now seems relevant, though certainly not brilliant, but the one hour album delivers a decent array of new material to satisfy the most sceptical Strawbs fan (myself included).
Of course, “Blue Angel”, one of Cousin’s greatest tunes from his brilliant “2 Weeks Last Summer” album (1972) is welcome enough even if it is a re-recording. First of all, this is a true prog folk/rock classic and here it’s changed enough (especially in the lead guitar solo) to make it worth a new listen. This is followed by a straight up rocker “Oh So Sleepy” that is pure mid-period Strawbs. “There will come a Day” is a moody, slow-paced classic that mixes the progressive elements of Strawbs folk rock days with their development into a prog rock band in the early seventies. “The Plain” is quite the same and both songs, at 6 minutes, give us a hint that Cousins has not forgotten his prog rock roots. These songs bookend a silly, yet melodically enjoyable ditty “Strange Day over the Hill” which is a nod to the band’s blue grass beginnings.
I love the pop sentiment of “Do you Remember”. When Cousins wants to write catchy love songs, he has no equal. Some great Hammond work by Blue Weaver here too. “Rhythm of the Night” is radio friendly riff rock from their mid-late 70s period and “Morning Glory” is where we find most of the new age sugar; Cousins delivering to the middle agers.
The last couple of tracks are old Strawbs hits. While this section of the album certainly doesn’t have the appeal of the previous 50 minutes, we get one very decent closing track. “The King”, with Maddy Prior on vocals, is classic Cousins and brilliant folk rock that stands alongside with the best from the genre’s halcyon days. With superb, inspirational lyrics, Cousins left me with the same breathlessness I had after Strawb’s classic albums like “From the Witchwood” and “Grave New World”. Quite simply, I wanted to hear more.
I hope that “Blue Angel” is not just a “one of” project. I pray it sells well and finds an audience in all those who once held the Strawbs in great esteem. I hope it leads to the release of another album, one with all new tracks. Cousins voice has never sounded better. There are definite progressive hints on this album and most of all, it’s not afraid to rock. There is still room in the world for a few more Strawbs albums.