This show was compiled from the songs on three sets of recordings of Dave Cousins' "Songs And Stories" tour in March 2008. (As you probably read, Dave also bared his soul with often highly personal stories around the songs, some of which had never been heard before, but we hadn't room to include any of the stories.)
Two of Dave's solo shows were used from the second half of the tour (Milwaukee and Chicago), recorded (with DC's permission) in the audience with a pair of microphones by recording enthusiast Rick Barnett; we also had the desk recording of the Cousins/Cutler duo performance at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia (I was lucky enough to be there at the Tin Angel and videoed the lot - more of that in due course).
What was fantastic was just how well some of the bigger songs translated into solo or duo performance. We've already seen how they can work in a three-hander environment with Acoustic Strawbs (though these days with Chas on pedals and another instrument in some cases that's almost a four-hander), but this would be stripping it way back down to bedrock, just Dave's voice and his acoustic guitar accompaniment, almost maybe as they emerged from his prolific songwriting days way back when.
Mind, for the first half of the tour of course, he had the pleasure of Ian Cutler's company on stage. I saw the Cousins, Cutler, Cronk gig in Chatham, UK, in late 2007 and the Gillingham warm-up for Dave and Ian in February, and was looking forward very much to seeing this partnership develop, which indeed it did (after a naturally slightly hesitant first night at Lakewood, NJ, and a less than optimal show in NYC) on the stage of the Tin Angel. There are some sonic differences between the ambient recordings of the solo shows and the desk recording of the Tin Angel (though Chas may by now have reduced these by his clever mastering), but some of the performances are just so magical that they cannot be missed, especially IMO, "The Shepherd's Song", "Blue Angel" and the splendid "We'll Meet Again Sometime".
This is an honest record of a great tour - it may not be perfect - as I mentioned, it's difficult to equalise audience and mixing desk recordings; there are a few coughs and noises and a couple of near-fluffs. But this was how it went, and as you'll have seen from the live reviews, those who saw it were transfixed. I was hugely pleased to experience some of it (sorry I missed DC solo) and have thoroughly enjoyed putting the album together (thanks Dave!)
Hanging In The Gallery (Milwaukee) - aching vocals from DC, over simple guitar backing. Dave modulates the volume of his guitar as he sings so it ducks nicely in and out behind the vocal. Maybe just how this song needs to be heard.
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger (Milwaukee) - usually heard with Ian Cutler's fiddle playing the main riff, but it works very well without and has great dynamics.
Song Of A Sad Little Girl (Milwaukee) - this long time Antiques And Curios favourite was written about his little girl Joelle. Very expressive vocals from Dave, and some nice fancy guitar work reproducing the intricacy of the QEH performance back in 1970. He can still hit those falsetto notes too !
The Hangman And The Papist (Milwaukee) - the sparse opening of "Hangman", Dave's little guitar figure, with Dave's strong vocal over the top, soon gives way to the familiar strummed accompaniment. With no snare to provide the drumbeat, Cousins changes the pattern to do so, before the chorus repeats in classic style. A core Cousins song and an obvious choice for the solo tour treatment.
Grace Darling (Milwaukee) - to gentler territory now - a heroine and a love song. "Grace" always works well for DC solo (eg. Wakeman & Cousins: Live 1988)
Beat The Retreat (Milwaukee) - a particularly fine performance in my view (and Rick's), Dave's vocal evokes that sense of loss that the song describes so eloquently.
Ringing Down The Years (Tin Angel) - Simple haunting fiddle accompaniment to this vocal tour de force adds an ethereal quality to Dave's already emotional vocal delivery. The Shepherd's Song (Tin Angel) - this classic song from From The Witchwood really got folks going in Chatham and Gillingham back in the UK - leading to its inclusion at last in the Acoustic set. This version features powerful strumming from DC and Ian's chirpy fiddle, which really blend well together. Ian gets to really let rip over Dave's rhythmic strum in the flamenco style instrumental coda. Fantastic.
Ways And Means (Tin Angel) - a welcome return for this, one of my favourite DC songs. Fiddle joins in with the DC riff for intro and verse, and works fantastically - then as the strummed chorus, Ian saws back and forth to match him. A little fiddle break after the middle eight. Simple but hugely effective. I think I'll play it again !
Blue Angel (Tin Angel) - Dave's introduction to this really laid bare part of his personal life, the turmoil when he left his wife and family back in the early 70s. The performance too is very intimate and close, the cute little guitar piece which opens the first and second sections, quiet and poignant, though there are some great dynamics to come.
The first section "Divided" is gentler and more reflective than the Two Weeks Last Summer version - a fiddle break after the first verse. The fiddle backs up the chorus as well, then to those staccato guitar chords/fiddle which form a bridge to the start of the second section "Half Worlds Apart". The volume swells for the closing part of each verse in this section eg "A man of honour has no secrets", then after the first chorus in this section, some more guitar chords whilst Ian fiddles away like a demon. Then after the second verse and more choruses, the chord change leading to the third section "At Rest", which spreads a sense of calm, enhanced by an all-too short fiddle solo which sounds echoey and lovely, between verse 2 and 3. DC's vocal is impressive and sustained, a lovely croaky ending as used to be the norm for the Acoustics' version. Who needs Rick Wakeman ?!
We'll Meet Again Sometime (Tin Angel) - Ian's fiddle gets a workout for this very well received encore number, matching perfectly Cousins' fast rhythmic strumming. Great fiddle solo between second and third verses. Some great dynamics in the last verses, where Cousins really spits out the words. Hard to believe that only two people are producing this fantastic noise. More!
Beside The Rio Grande (Chicago) - this too an encore, from one of the solo shows. Just Cousins' acoustic riff to start before Cousins vocal cuts in, quiet at first but building quickly. Classic Cousins' vocal delivery - classic Cousins song. It doesn't need anything more than acoustic guitar, in DC's hands.
Well-deserved sustained applause as DC bids farewell to the audience, to see them again, not in another 30 years, but hopefully the following June when the Electric Strawbs would be back in the US.
With everybody focusing on The Broken Hearted Bride, I figured I'd submit a review of Dave Cousins' Duochrome because, as my mother always tells the relatives, "You know that Judi. She always has to be different."
Duochrome was offered as a bonus for those of us who pre-ordered The Broken Hearted Bride through Witchwood Records. A collection of some of Cousins' masterpieces performed live during his U.S. solo tour in March 2008, the "bonus with purchase" scheme concerned me, as I own enough horribly-colored "bonus" lipsticks to prove that "bonus with purchase" is most often a way for merchants to rid themselves of total crap. I quickly learned that this bonus was a true bonus and still find it mind boggling that Duochrome seems to have started out as nothing more than an extra enticement for buyers of BHB.
As a Witchwooder, you may wonder why you'd want an album like Duochrome at all, considering so many—most likely, all—of its songs already appear in your Strawbs collection. As one who has on more than one occasion bemoaned the fact that I have about eight different versions of "Lay Down", I might have agreed…until I listened to it. Like the tour it commemorates, Duochrome is an extraordinary experience and one that we haven't had before. This is, for the most part, Dave Cousins and a guitar - he could just as easily be strumming and singing in your living room instead of on stage in Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Chicago.
But don't think that the intimate nature of this solo performance means that quality or professionalism has been sacrificed. Whether strong and powerful or gentle and breathy, Cousins' voice throughout the entire recording is the best I've ever heard it and recording quality, for the most part, is excellent. While only the Philadelphia section was recorded off the sound board, I didn't find the Milwaukee or Chicago sound inferior at all.
And the songs themselves… "Hanging In The Gallery", "The Hangman And The Papist", "Ringing Down The Years", maybe the BEST "Blue Angel" I've ever heard, "Beside The Rio Grande", "Song Of A Sad Little Girl", "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger", "Ways And Means", "Grace Darling" and, with Ian Cutler who enhances the Philadelphia songs with a perfectly-placed string accompaniment, a nearly Cajun version of "We'll Meet Again Sometime". My only question is where the heck did "Beat The Retreat" come from??? I think I was at more shows of this tour than Ian Cutler was and never heard "Beat The Retreat" so I feel a bit cheated.
This is also the perfect album for anyone who's looking for a Cousins performance that's pure music and no chit-chat - a quick introduction of Ian and a "Good night" at the final song are the only few seconds that are not filled with full, glorious music.
In 2007 Dave Cousins produced just one solo album, but already this year he has produced twice that number. Assuming that he continues at that rate, we should expect four next year, and eight in 2010. I calculate that if he keeps doubling his output each year, by 2015 he will be producing one new album a day, (with weekends and bank holidays off), and by 2016 we will all need to build at least an extra 33 feet of bookshelves just to store DC CDs. By 2021 he'll be making them at a faster rate than we can listen! So whilst I'm still able to write a review on an individual DC solo album, thought I'd comment on Duochrome.
Have to say from the outset, that I love the title, with its implied homage to Brian Willoughby's solo album Black And White. There's a fantastic picture of Geraldine on the front cover. Such a shame that some bloke in a pink shirt got between her and the mirror. :-) Very proud of both Dick and Sue for the sleeve artwork, though I must confess to being a teeny bit jealous.
Duochrome was recorded live at various venues on Dave's "Stories and Songs" tour, though strangely, on the sleeve it is described as the "Duochrome Tour". The Tin Angel show in Philadelphia was the only concert where the sound was recorded directly from the sound desk, which means that Chas has done a fantastic job in balancing the sound and making this a professional live album rather than a bootleg. (The rest was recorded with something called an ambient stereo pair).
Such a shame that this wasn't a double album, as from the reviews of the tour, Dave also played "Skip To My Lou", and "The Call To Action", neither of which are on Duochrome, and none of Dave's stories have been included. As it is, this album is well over an hour, so nobody can say they haven't got their money's worth.
I guess the fact that Dave's stories haven't been included bodes well for the prospect of more touring. Very surprised that "If", "Plainsong", "Canada" or anything from Hero And Heroine weren't played on this tour, so that also adds weight that further tours could be coming.
On From The Witchwood, "The Hangman And The Papist", complete with Rick Wakeman introduction, lasted for four minutes and thirteen seconds, whereas now, it is four minutes and eight seconds. In other words, in thirty seven years it has lost only five seconds. When you think that an expensive watch crystal is likely to gain or lose around fifty seconds every million seconds (approx eleven days) you could say that the Dave Cousins is around ten thousand times more accurate than any chronometer used in the lunar landings.
Dave Cousins has always surrounded himself with extremely talented musicians, particularly guitarists, (DL, BW and Miller Anderson to name but three), so one might be forgiven for thinking that DC was a singer/songwriter and a rhythm guitarist. Listening to him playing solo, this is clearly not the case. He is a very accomplished guitarist in his own right. The seven completely solo tracks would be at risk of sounding monotonous if just accompanied by some strummed chords, and none of the tracks on this album are remotely monotonous.
All of the tracks have appeared in various guises before, and "Grace Darling" has even appeared as a DC solo before (on Wakeman & Cousins: Live 1988), but most of the tracks here aren't normally covered by either the Electric or the Acoustic line ups of the Strawbs anymore, making this a must-have in everybody's collection.
Favorite tracks on this album for me are "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger" and "The Shepherd's Song". Hadn't heard "Never Take Sweets" played without the violin before, and didn't think it would work in this format, but it does. I'm still convinced that this is a song about Sandy Denny, albeit wrapped up in a top-shelf ghost story. He's alone in a hotel room, when he finds out that someone he loved has died. That sounds like Sandy to me. Particularly as that someone was golden haired.
The violin accompaniment to "The Shepherd's Song" is stunning. It is hard to believe at times that there are only two musicians on stage. The overall effect sounds very much like a piece of music from "Caravan".
All in all, an excellent album. I look forward to many more DC solo albums and tours.
I still haven't had much time to listen to Duochrome unfortunately, but have enjoyed listening to the stripped back versions of a lot of the songs in a similar way to that in which I enjoy listening to demos on the boxed set. The sound really is great too, very clear, and far superior to what I'd anticipated.
Particular favourite on the listenings I've had is "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger", possibly because it's the song I'm least well-acquainted with, and only have the one other (excellent) version on The Boy In The Sailor Suit already. (I confess to rarely being a fan of having multiple versions of songs.) A very good album though, and definitely a must have for Dave Cousins' fans. Really like the photo on the front cover too - I think it's intriguing. (Well done to Sue and Dick too of course!)
I have just finished listening to Duochrome and was amazed at the quality of the sound. Previous talk of the album made it sound that these were in general recordings not specificaly organised; but just at someone's request with Daves permission. But this album is a treasure, it is very well recorded and the track listings very well laid out by one 'Mr Greener'. The choice of tracks in that order has given a great flow to the whole album and you must have been delighted to be asked to do it. [DG - yep, sure was!]
What I like about the album is firstly that it's free, secondly it is crystal clear, every word can be heard, and thirdly it not only highlights Dave's great songs and singing but shows Dave for once as an excellent guitarist. When I have ever seen Dave performing it's always with either Dave Lambert or Brian Willoughby, so you could never tell - until now that is - how good he is.
This was a very good contrast to the amazing and brilliant big sound of The Broken Hearted Bride. Duochrome is the 'Strawbs' stripped bare of the big production and other musicions (apart from Ian Cutler) with its creator for most of the time alone on stage with his guitar. And as someone called out at the end 'you're a genius' - how fitting a way to make that the last track with that comment on it.
I would just like to end by saying that the £20 deal to get The Broken Hearted Bride and Duochrome is the best value for money I have ever had since I started buying records over forty years ago.
On behalf of all fans please express our joy (and tears) to all involved in making this "historic" reproduction of such a unique artist and tour.
In my opinion this will go down as a "treasure" of live performances by anyone. From my perspective this entire CD parallels the individualism of the release of Blue Angel years ago.