I actually lucked into finding The Bridge back in '93.A friend was deep into the internet and was trying to get me interested by showing how easy it was to find obscure CD's there. I looked up Dave Cousins and this CD with Brian Willoughby popped up. I was so happy to find what I thought was Old School Songs on CD just went for it. A week later The Bridge came in the mail and knocked me out. I think it's better then Ringing Down the Years and Don't Say Goodbye. This maybe because it sounds less like it's trying to uphold some Strawbs legacy and more like the boys are trying to find an identity as a duo. It still sounds like Strawbs though but in a more intimate and less self-conscious way.
"You Never Needed Water" would be a show stopper if it weren't first. Great Tony Fernandez drums and Brian guitar revolve around a cool and cruel Cousins vocal and lyric. It all sounds like it was recorded on a hot Saturday night on someone's front porch. Absolutely habit forming.
Much has been said about "Further Down the Road" - this would not have been out of place on Ringing or Goodbye. It is great to hear Mary Hopkins. A sweet Cousins ballad in the classic sense. "Strange Day Over the Hill" is a nice shuffle. It sounds so easy and free. Earthy and inviting in the playfulness of its performance. I play this one often.
"Heat of the Street" rocks with an almost Dave Lambert kind of energy but again the productions lends a rootsy quality not found on later Strawbs projects. When it comes to likeable ballads I prefer "Morning Glory" and "Cry No More" they have great choruses and fine harmonies with Mary again. The great electric guitar modulations and playful melody of "Do You Remember" really stir me. I am so glad I love musicians who can sing such a child like melody with such earnestness. It takes guts and talent and it works.
Blue Weaver's sweeping organ on the epic "The Plain" is power and glory personified. It is a classic and awesome sound to behold. "Oh So Sleepy" is a rocker in the "Turn Me Round" vein(the piano chords are too close)but it flows happily. A real picker-upper this one. The Bridge finishes with a classic closer. "Song For Alex" is a lonesome "Beat the Retreat" Cousins-style acoustic ballad: I love it. Everything about it says turn off the light; it's time to go lick the day's wounds.
I became aware of the existence of this little known album - I mean, outside the hard core of the Holy Strawbship - only recently, i.e. after I joined Witchwood several months ago. That album appeared a little out of nowhere, and featured for the second time in the duo format - Cousins with fellow lead guitarist Brian Willoughby doing the embellishments (the first time being Old School Songs issued in 1979).
I remember that my first reaction to The Bridge was quite favorable. The killer country style guitar riff that is used as an intro to "You Never Needed Water" sounded to me like nothing Cousins (or the Strawbs) had ever done before. It is a refreshing, adrenalin-driven acoustic song with some acidulous verses on - perhaps - some love affair turned sour. Rarely has Willoughby noodled with so much pasta enthusiasm on a Cousins song before… An exciting "entree en matiere", especially since this album contains almost exclusively material never released before (a rare feat at the time for a Cousins album). Digressing/disserting a little here: Dave Cousins seems to have a box full of songs like this one that describes seemingly personal stories that literally resonate like old scores which the poet wants to pay off with some disturbing muse (?). The insistence that Cousins often puts in his song opus on speaking at the first person about sexual experiences turned sour - be it faked deflowering ("You Never Needed Water"), falling down after an ecstatic alcove encounter ("Out In The Cold"), or obscurely dramatic events ("The River") - one of the most personal relationship that any singer I know tries to establish with the listener, whatever is the reality behind these lyrics. There is something of a dark, heavy spirit that wraps the language used by Cousins that makes it very special and makes one want to become both the witness of his pleasure and his friend in hardship.
But Cousins can show much lighter spirit: take this: "Do you remember the day we met How we kissed the way they do in France?" Who else, I'm asking, who else in the world can write verses like that, hmmmm?
"Further Down the Road" does not feature one of the best Cousins performances - singing an otherwise beautiful melody and elegant lyrics, but Mary Hopkin's nicely tragic voice helps to digest the unnerving strain that Cousins tends to impose on his thin baritone when he tries to reach high notes. This tendency to exceed his natural vocal range dates as far back as to Hero And Heroine, and often disfigures excellent songs on albums such as Deep Cuts or Burning For You. Fortunately, the same tendency is less pervasive on The Bridge (except, again, at the end of "The Plain"), thanks to the varied vocal accompaniments (Chas Cronk, Mary Hopkin, Roy Hill, Tommy Lundy, and Dana Heller ).
Musically speaking, the album unfortunately contains few songs of the caliber that Cousins previously demonstrated so often in his rich repertoire. Of course, "The Plain" is a sort of mini-epic with its typical Cousins-like delivery and its solemnity, and is easily the best song on the album, together with "You Never Needed Water". The revisiting of "Song for Alex" is a delicious one, as compared with the original found on Preserves Uncanned, which sounded much more bland. Cousins' delivery of that song, with his unique nostalgic/tired tone of voice, is just perfect and is another memorable number on The Bridge .
Other songs (especially "Morning Glory", "Cry No More") are often nicely executed, with harmonies that can be refreshing and different from the type we have been used to on previous albums. The problem is: most songs, despite often clever or beautifully drafted lyrics, fail to truly move me in the way I still expect from a Dave Cousins. The musical accompaniment is often trivial and simplistic (e.g. "Do You Remember". "Oh So Sleepy"- which would have better been left sleeping where it was anyway…) and fits often poorly with the inspired poetry found in most songs on this album
All in all, several listenings to The Bridge have failed to leave a strong, durable impression on me, and after the first agreeable surprise of songs like "YNNW" and "The Plain", I am left with a rather dull record to revisit. Not bad, often cute, technically O.K.: this is not what I expect from Dave Cousins. After listening with great emotion to his recently re-issued masterpiece, Two Weeks Last Summer, I readily got the measure of how highly inspired Cousins has proved to be. The Bridge lacks musical luster and originality, despite decent efforts from the accompanying band (Willoughby in particular), but is still blessed with a collection of mostly original and interesting lyrics, carefully drafted, as usual.
I find it very difficult to review The Bridge . I could talk about the fact that this is an important album as it was the last collection of new Dave Cousins songs we had (except Heartbreak Hill - but that dated from 1980). I could point out that "The Plain" is a Dave Cousins epic in the great tradition of "Beside the Rio Grande". I could mention that the lyric sheet contains some gems, and claim that in my opinion the presence of Mary Hopkin as a backing singer gives this album a sound unprecedented on any previous Strawbs album which possibly hints what the Strawbs might have sounded like if Sandy Denny hadn't left.
However while he above may or may not be true, the fact remains that although the CD is often to be found in the CD drawer of my player I rarely play the album all the way through. I am besotted with one track- "Further Down the Road". I've always liked this song and found it to be a particular source of inspiration and comfort when my wife and I were making the the difficult decision to leave West Yorkshire and move up here to Cumbria. I still need its sentiments - when I play it I really CAN see myself tomorrow, a little way further down the road and I feel uplifted. I find the version on The Bridge to be superior to the live one on The Complete Strawbs - it feels slower and sound more "anthemic" somehow. My favourite Dave Cousins song changes from day to day, but this one has certainly spent time as my personal number one.
I truly enjoy this album, and love almost every song. I am not a big fan of "Heat of the Street", but the rest range from great to really good. My personal favourite is "Morning Glory". I just love this song, although "Further Down the Road" is classic, as well. I love Mary Hopkin's background vocals, absolutely lovely. For most of how I feel about this album, though, you can refer to Ben's analysis. He covered most of how I feel about the songs. How does that go again, something about great minds...
And I don't care why it's there, in "Song For Alex" he mentions Toronto, my hometown. He mentions friends in Toronto. [Dick Greener adds: The song was written at the Cambridge Folk Festival either in 1965 when the Strawberry Hill Boys first played there or in 68 or 69 when they appeared as Strawbs. It was written overnight in honour of veteran folkie Alex Campbell, and they played it for him the next day.]
Why is this NOT a Strawbs album? Contractual stuff? Does anyone know? If it walks like a Strawbs album, and talks like a Strawbs album, and hangs over troubled waters like a Simon and Garfun..., er, sorry, wrong album.