It is impossible to describe the joy of hearing this album for the first time as a Strawbs fan. This is a work that brings everything that was good about 1972 in music to the present. It is like discovering a piece of music that was once missing and is now found.
Of course, if you are not a Strawbs/Cousins/Wakeman fan, you may not know what I mean. To those unfamiliar with the music, you may find little to be progressive in this collection of melodic, melancholic tunes. You may find some of the latter songs to be almost too saccharine. It may take you repeated listens to discover the haunting beauty found within the bulk of these new tunes by old collaborators.
Rick Wakeman and Dave Cousins first worked together on the very early albums of Cousin’s post folk band The Strawbs before Wakeman’s departure to Yes found him fame and many fans of his symphonic brand of progressive rock. The two also worked together on one of the most beautiful albums ever produced, Dave Cousin’s first solo album in 1972 – “Two Weeks Last Summer”. This is an album that – as a lost gem – has never been released on CD except in a rare Korean pressing.
The two serendipitously decided to join forces and release a collaborative effect last year and “Hummingbird” was the result. It was a quiet release and has not seen much press or publicity – hence this posthumous review.
The album features, of course Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Dave Cousins on vocals, guitar, dulcimer, banjo and session musicians including Ric Sanders on violin, Mac McGann on tipple, ex – Strawbs Chas Cronk on bass and Tony Fernandez on drums.
The album begins in rousing fashion with the rocker, “The Young Pretender”, which brilliantly combines the old progressive Strawbs style with later day rock of Strawb’s “Deadlines” album. There is not another rocker on the album until song 10, “All in Vain”. The exquisite “Hummingbird”, “So Shall Our Love Die”, and “Steppes” follow. Cousin’s poetic beauty sandwiched by Wakeman instrumental flourishes on piano. This pairing of skills pretty much sums up the body of “Hummingbird”. “October to May” follows, the only remake of the album. It is a new version of Cousin’s accapella opener to “Two Weeks Last Summer”. It was fabulous on that album and here it is different, and as beautiful in a new way. “Ice Maiden” and the traditional “Higher Germanie” follow, then “Stone Cold is the Woman's Heart”. This is the first taste of Cousin’s more saccharine style and perhaps the only weaker track on the first 40 minutes of the album. Another Wakeman instrumental, “Crie du Coeur” takes us to the rocker, “All in Vain” and at forty minutes in, we have a near perfect album. And Wakeman has never played better.
There is something almost new age-ish in the last 8 or so minutes of the album which takes away from the brilliance of what proceeds it and therefore, unlike “Two Weeks Last Summer”, I cannot give this work a perfect score.
And as I mentioned earlier, one has to appreciate Cousin’s poetic style of writing and nasal voice to really like this kind of work. But for any of those who have ever tapped into the fruits of Strawbs glory days, this album is a late but important reminder that those days may not yet be over.