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WAKEMAN & COUSINS: HUMMINGBIRD - REVIEWS AND COMMENTS

Contents


Hummingbird cover

WHAT WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR - Preview by Dick Greener

This is an excellent album, with a significant offering of new Cousins material at last, and some interesting and attractive retreads of previously recorded material. Songwise, Dave is very much in the driving seat, and Rick contributes restrained and tasteful accompaniment: Strawbs fans needn't fear that their hero is overpowered by the flamboyant tinkler of ivories. Wakeman contributes four short instrumentals, which I generally see as codas to the songs which precede them. Each one picks up one or two of the melodic figures from the song and giving Wakeman the chance to extemporise a few variations and flourishes on those themes. They bind the album together, if not into a conceptual whole, at least a consistent and flowing pattern from beginning to end.

Throughout, the quality of the vocals - crystal clear - and the way they've been placed well up in the mix (not always the case with Strawbs albums) is outstandingly good. Whilst the instrumentation is often quite simple - gentle strumming from Dave, and predominantly piano from Rick - it's always very easy to hear the various elements. It doesn't actually say who the producer was - presumably Dave and Rick themselves - but Erik Jordan and recording engineer Stuart Sawney are credited with "mixing" and they deserve a good deal of praise for their efforts. (I might have liked more in the way of backing vocals, but the lack of that familiar feature emphasises that this is very much a Cousins/Wakeman duo collaboration with guests rather than a ersatz Strawbs album.)

"The Young Pretender" is a splendidly well-chosen opening track, in my view up there with some of the Strawbs classics (I know Rick has said they're not doing "Strawbs" as such, but this could stand up and fit in well on pretty much any of the band's classic albums). From the opening drumbeat (Tony Fernandez and Chas Cronk providing an excellent backline, with Wakeman and Cousins - an interesting mixture of Strawbs from very different eras), the whole thing carries on at an excellent rocking pace, offering Cousins a chance to shine with an excellent upbeat vocal, one of the best on the album. However, despite the quality of the performances from all others involved, it's Ric Sanders that steals the show with crazy phased fiddle breaks that carry the tune between verses, looping in and out at the end of phrases and generally popping up wherever feasible to do so. The song closes with a synthesiser playout from Rick, with more fiddle from Mr. Sanders. Lyrically, it's one of Dave's coded story songs, anyone know who the Young Pretender is, or the captain, or want to hazard a guess ? Superb. This one, I'd LOVE to see done live - Cousins, Wakeman and Sanders at Cropredy maybe, in front of the Fairport rhythm section?

"Hummingbird" is another cup of tea altogether, a lyrical and poetic description of a hummingbird, opening very quietly with Dave's voice quiet over echoing gentle piano and guitar picking. The whole thing swells as Rick adds a chorus "pad" over the first chorus. The vocal is delicate, and the whole song has a very different tone from its predecessor (very quiet after the opening bounce of "Pretender" - if you're listening in the car as I have been, you might have to ride the volume control here a little in order not to miss out.). Not immediately as impressive, but it'll grow on you.

"So Shall Our Love Die" starts out with the familiar Cousins guitar figure from the Nomadness version, with some instantly recognisable Wakeman arpeggios circling it on piano. I miss the closing guitar section, but instead we have a short Wakeman instrumental "Steppes" which picks up the "Nothing but the West Wind" melody. I'd have thought this is a likely candidate for the Acoustics in due course.

Two Weeks Last Summer, Dave's magical solo album from 1972, included the next song "October To May" as an accapella outing, with the Kidlington Kossacks on backing vocals (aka Dave Lambert amongst others methinks - could be a good one to revive for the Acoustics). An earlier version with Russian folk song style guitar backing emerged on Preserves Uncanned. This has tasteful piano and guitar accompaniment, with Cousins' clear vocal - in fine voice - ringing out with the wistful memories of Autumns long gone. It segues into "Ice Maiden" - a very short exercise indeed with pads and synthesisers.

"Higher Germanie" is the traditional folk song that Dave used to perform on banjo as a solo spot at festivals back in the heady days of 1971 and 1972. Here, it has a startling arrangement, with Wakeman piano arpeggios and Dave picking away at his new banjo. Ric Sanders joins in the middle for a short solo. But what makes the track stand out is the highly unusual vocal arrangement, layering Dave's whispering voice under the main vocal, with some phased or possibly tape reversed snippets in the background. The overall effect is plaintive and other-worldly, the whispered voices are the ghosts of the dead and dying soldiers of the war. Dave was very pleased with the way this track had been recorded and rightly so.

"Stone Cold Is The Woman's Heart" used to be sung as a slow ballad by Dave when touring with Brian back in the late 70s, early 80s, but when it was selected for 1991's Ringing Down The Years album, it was given a faster, and as a result of the sampled drums, slightly mechanistic backing, which wasn't entirely successful. This version reverts to the original intentions - simple guitar over piano, Dave singing his melancholy heart out, another excellent vocal. It's followed by another Wakeman coda "Cri de Coeur".

I have to say that "All In Vain" didn't match the other new numbers for me, despite good instrumentation. An echoing piano break between verses from Wakeman and various synthesiser breaks in the middle eight and towards the end. Chas and Tony set a good driving pace, and Mac MacGann joins in on tipple. Possibly a slightly challenging register for an upbeat vocal from Dave, as with "Joey And Me" which has never really worked for me despite being a favourite for many. Excellent abrupt close, though.

Then, for me the third outstanding track of the album, "Can You Believe", co-written by Dave with Webb and Leon. I believe Webb is Cassell Webb, with whom Dave considered a possible collaboration back in the early 1990s - the only practical result of that was a cover of "Further Down The Road" on her 1991 album House Of Dreams, but presumably this dates from then and if there are any more songs from that period I want to hear them and I want them NOW. I think this is one of the best songs Dave has written and recorded for years, a possible runaway single if marketed appropriately. Wakeman opens this with a simple little organ break (think the organ part of "Ghosts") and Cousins joins in with gentle strummed guitar. Dave's vocals, sensitively mixed and echoed, are perfect on this gentle ballad. Once again Wakeman's playing is entirely appropriate, it enhances the gentle vocals and guitar, never threatening to swamp any of the other elements of the song. The lyrics are excellent, some excellent images.

The Wakeman instrumental which follows is the most interesting of the four, "Via Bencini", which features a clarinet-like setting on Rick's keyboard, playing a haunting melody. Whereas each of the others seemed more like a coda to the Cousins song which preceded it, this picked up some of the melodic phrases from "Can You Believe" but stands as an enjoyable piece in its own right.

The piano which opens the remake of "Forever Ocean Blue" is quite familiar to those who've heard the previous Chris Parren keyboard version, though a few Wakeman flourishes have been added. Ric's fiddle adds something new as the second verse opens, and the song closes with a gentle fiddle piece finishing off in the manner of a genteel string quartet.

Packaging excellent, the lyrics set out in full, with photos of the boys in various artistic poses. The attractive front cover is a painting by Wakeman's lady Alina Bencini.

It's what we've been waiting for for a long time.


Hummingbird cover

PREVIEW by Tony Attwood of Witchwood Records

Tony Attwood had a sneak preview of the new Wakeman/Cousins album - reprinted here by kind permission of Witchwood Records:

We gathered, the four of us, in deepest France - a hamlet of perhaps 20 houses about an hour's drive from Bordeaux. It had been hectic - air traffic controllers were doing their stuff, which didn't help given the fact that I was trying to get to the meeting from Budapest. But we gathered, and after the sustenance for which the region is famous, we listened to Hummingbird in the sort of glorious farmhouse sitting room that only seems to exist in France, as the sun set and the shadows danced on the stone walls.

The version we listened to was not quite the final edition of the CD - there is still a touch of remixing to be done on one track, and the running order was still a matter of debate. My attempts to change the title of the album to All In Vain, and to make that the first track were firmly vetoed - Hummingbird it remains.

The next day we got up to a mixture of sunshine and showers and drove off to Chateau Mouton Rothschild to admire the wine library and discuss grapes - except for those of us (i.e. me) who know nothing of grapes but who sat there nodding profoundly and hoping that no one would ask my opinion. In the afternoon we drove to Bordeaux and went searching for a shop which was reputed to have a golden salamander statue. We didn't find it, but did by the strangest chance find the Golden Salamander cafe, with a wonderful sign up outside.

I defy anyone who has ever listened to Dave Cousins not to be staggered by Hummingbird - it is a true masterpiece. At moments I felt like I was listening to a classic track that I had somehow missed. At other moments it was all new - a different style, a different approach. I loved every second of it.

Here's the track listing (when Tony Attwood heard the album)

  1. Hummingbird
  2. So Shall Our Love Die
  3. Steppes
  4. October To May
  5. Ice Maiden
  6. Higher Germanie
  7. Stone Cold Is The Woman's Heart
  8. Crie de Coeur
  9. All In Vain
  10. Forever Ocean Blue
  11. Can You Believe
  12. Via Genoa


Hummingbird cover

A FORMIDABLE TEAM - Review by Doug LeBlanc

Rick Wakeman is an oddity to me. While I love his playing, I really do not like his writing. His albums leave me cold, and have for a long time now. Where he really shines is in Yes. Here he is given music to enliven, music to put colours into. Under the awesome imagination of Jon Anderson, he finds scope and more for his considerable abilities. Dave Cousins is the heart and soul of a band called the Strawbs. They have been around for many years. In fact, Rick Wakeman used to play with them before joining Yes. It seems the Dave Cousins could never find a way to use the virtuoso talents of Mr. Wakeman until after he had left. The Strawbs ventured into the world of progressive rock, and did so quite successfully. Sadly, Rick was not around to help with those halcyon days, save for the occasional session work.

This CD reunites the old friends for the first time in over thirty years. There are a few new songs, and some older Strawbs songs are dusted off and given new life. Yes, Dave and Rick are old friends, drinking buddies from their 'good ol' days'. But can they play together? Can they make it work after all these years? Would this be just a nostalgia album, wiping away a tear for auld lang syne?

Yes, it does work, and no, it is not an nostalgic look back. It is a nod of recognition between two accomplished artists, an acknowledgment that time may have passed, but it has not passed these two by. They work together as if they they had never stopped, as if they could read each other openly and honestly. Dave Cousins didn't just pick out a few random tracks to play with Rick, the songs are heard here are if they are brand new. They are given new life on this album, and they work as good, if not even better than they did as the original versions.

They work because Rick Wakeman has added entire new meanings to the words; entire pages of passion to the work. This is especially true of the passionate 'So Shall Our Love Die?', the gentle guitar ballad from the Nomadness album. The song is fragile, but Rick does a beautiful job of catching the delicate strength of the song, and reinforcing the beauty of the melody. His work here rivals anything he did with Yes, even the lovely 'Turn of the Century'.

There is one complaint, though. The opening track is called 'The Young Pretender', and features violin work by Ric Sanders of Fairport Convention fame. I find this spoils an otherwise good song. One almost longs for Dave Lambert of the Strawbs to step up and say "Now hold on a mo, let's have a gander at that!", then lay down guitar work to really capture the fire of the song.

Of the original songs, I find the sweet fragrance of the title track truly captures what Cousins and Wakeman can do, although 'Can You Believe' is certainly excellent, as well. 'Higher Germanie' is a traditional song, but seems quite unremarkable to me. It has the same melody as a dozen other traditional songs; this one is hardly noteworthy enough to warrant inclusion here.

On the whole, an excellent CD, well worth the effort. It is a testament to the abilities of two great men, Dave Cousins, the songwriter, and Rick Wakeman, the musician. Together they make a formidable team.



THING OF BEAUTY - Review by Pete Fyfe

The strains of the electro-violin give you the feeling that you've stumbled onto an un-earthed Fairport recording. Then on further listening there's the unmistakable voice of Dave Cousins and Rick Wakeman's trademark keyboard. Ah, somewhat blissfully, this recording transports you back to the time when the Strawbs were just breaking through with Antiques And Curios and everything was right with the world.

If it's ok with you I'll skip the first number - it's not that I don't like it it's just that the violin is a bit to full on for me. No, the album really starts on "Hummingbird" where the track conjures up days of a misspent youth lounging by the river. Cousins' lyrics are so precise in their construction that you get the feeling of an artist gently bearing his soul - opening the door, enticing the audience in with lucid visions of an aural palette. Likewise Wakeman's keyboard offers a cushion of velvet on which to rest the caressing vocal tones. As anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not particularly into singer-songwriters but in the hands of a master you can make a grown man cry.

Meanwhile on the arpeggio laden "Higher Germanie" Dave turns his hand to interpreting a traditional ballad (the first time he's done so if memory serves me right) and the frailing banjo produces a dramatic edge that sounds not dissimilar to early Steeleye. Like the Hummingbird, this album is a thing of beauty and worthy of a place in everyone's CD collection.


Comments from Witchwood - the Strawbs Discussion Group

Paco Fox

Luckily, I've received my CD today... I'm listening to it now for the first time, and my first impression is good: Don't worry about the fact of the CD being Cousins and Wakeman or vice-versa. It is really a 50% collaboration. I would even say that it sounds more Cousins... The 'full band' songs ("The Young Pretender", "All In Vain'" are both co-written, and they sound like a song from The Bridge with some sparse trademark Wakemanish keyboard sound.

Some other songs sound a bit like the Acoustic Strawbs ("Can You Believe", for example. By the way, who are those 'Leon & Webb' co-credited with Cousins?), while there are some beautiful piano pieces by Wakeman that could be easily featured in any of his piano albums. I'm not going to talk about the new versions yet, because the first impression when talking about new arrangments is something that need a closer listening. And, finally, there is a very interesting oddity: "Higher Germanie". You have to listen to it, because it's the song in the album that suits most the description 'nothing like what you've heard before'.>

Ok. song 12 has finished. Let's start it all over again.

PS: The cover, wich I like a lot, is from Alina Bencini, Rick's partner. Guess who "Via Bencini" is for?

Pete Cusumano

Hummingbird arrived after 9 days in flight across the pond.

There are two different moods on this album. First there's the two upbeat full band numbers which would be a great single: "The Young Pretender" b/w "All In Vain". Play them over and over. I think they could count as new material recorded by a full Strawbs band (the Antiques & Deadlines + Ric version of the band).

Then there's the rest of the album - an artistic, lovely, elegant and emotional work that plays as a single piece if you pull the above mentioned songs out of the song cycle. Play the above songs at your next party; play the rest at your next dinner party. A real high point is the mesmerizing arrangement of the traditional "Higher Germanie". "Can You Believe" has charm to spare (so who are Leon and Webb?). Fans of "October to May" have a real treat coming. Rick's piano really captures the feel of the song with just a touch of haunting synthesizers to make it ethereal.

Another track off Hummingbird I just can't seem to hear enough of is 'Via Bencini'. Its style reminds me of those wonderfully dreamy romantic instrumental themes henry mancini used to write for the female lead in the movies he scored, like 'Something For Audrey' from the 'Breakfast At Tiffany' score. particularly from the period when mancini frequently employed arp synthesizer in those instrumentals, as in the piece he wrote for Jacqueline Bisset in 'The Thief Who Came To Dinner'. Since Rick was writing for his leading lady the comparison seems even more appropriate.

Ken Levine

I got my copy of Hummingbird yesterday, listened a couple of times and my first impression is just so-so overall. While I didn't dislike it, none of the new songs really reached out and grabbed me, and the reworkings of previously recorded material combined with the relatively short running time in this CD era left me feeling a bit short changed.

I thought "The Young Pretender" and "All In Vain" were pretty good but I did not think much of "Can You Believe". "Higher Germanie" started promising but ended up sounding to me like "The Plain" from the Bridge, which is a good song but I was hoping for something more. The title track shows promise but needs more listenings. "Stone Cold" is a song I never liked and I didn't need another version, while "Forever Ocean Blue" is barely better. The only remake that I felt added something was "October to May", which is like a blend of the two existing recorded versions, and it beautifully done. Wakeman's flourishes save the disk in some places, and Via Bencini is gorgeous. My opinion my change but right now I'd say I'm a bit disappointed.

Tom Brooking

Well my response is somewhere between The problem is, I guess, that expectations are so high. I dreamt of a richly textured album with wonderful mixes of keyboards and dulcimer, banjo, guitar like From The Witchwood. I also hoped for the nice, easy soft vocals that are such a feature of Baroque & Roll which has become a favourite and won over many new converts too. Instead I get DC unadorned, with no harmonies, taking vocal risks somewhere between Dylan and Tom Waits.

Still the opener is a classic, sardonic DC song like "A Boy And His Dog" or "To Be Free". I'm going to be provocative and suggest that he captain is George Bush and the young Pretender is Tony Blair-why not? The fiddle is great too and the rhythm section tight. the synth solos are great and and the piano is like Blue's on "Heat Of The Street". The second track is even better in IMHO. This is a cunning love song in the best DC tradition. Wonderful images and nice soft backing based around a dulcimer-I think-with its odd thack/whack sound. A DC classic I reckon and worth the purchase price alone. I've always loved "So Shall Our Love Die?' and "October To May" BUT I prefer the originals in that I miss the cymbalum and chas's harmonies and the Kidlington Cossacks - add them to RW's arrangement and that would be the best version. The RW additions are tasteful and develop the DC themes (I could have had longer versions of these) and lead into an amazing version of "Higher Germanie" Yet again DC demonstrates that he is a great traditional singer - why not an album in this vein??

Unfortunately it declines from there. I've always admired "Stone Cold Is The Woman's Heart" as an masterful song but I miss Brian's great guitar line and surely no-one could be that bad??? "All In Vain" winds up the energy in a "Something For Nothing" kind of way but the lyric leaves me cold - come on Dave, it's time to move beyond that Bruising Of Hearts Losing Of Races stuff. Indeed I started to crave for those wonderful concerned. 'issue songs' on B&R - it's great that these olde guys still care! The synth solo is ok though. "Can You Believe" is pleasant and even poppy but not DC at his best. The RW instrumental sounds too like Kenny Gee for me to like it but it's nicely done. Slowing down "Forever Ocean Blue" highlights the lovely melody as in "Stone Cold" but I miss Brian's guitar solos!!

In sum a good album for which I'm grateful BUT I'd really love another acoustic album and another full band album, with or without orchestra. Sort of B+ for me whereas B&R is A+ and the DVD is great too. I also had confirmed why I prefer Blue's keyboards style with DC -more organ and somehow it matches better the rough, thousand olde year voice better. I guess the 43 minutes is also disappointing after the amazing 64 + of B&R, Chiswick etc

So roll on the other DVDs, another acoustic album and another full band album-that's what we're all craving! (not to mention a tour to NZ & Australia by the acoustic band!) Cheers and have couple of fine kiwi wines for this one plus dozens for B&R.

Mayanne Kehoe

I am playing it over and over! Actually it has been in my PO Box for awhile, I threw my back out Friday (old work injury) and have been hobbling around the apartment here andhave only gone to the grocery store. There have already been several excellent reviews here so I will only list my favorite songs off the CD (although I *do* like them all.)

1. "The Young Pretender" (my absolute favorite---would love to see the full electric Strawbs do this live....would knock my socks off.)
2. "Hummingbird"
3. "Higher Germanie"
4. "Via Encino" (whoops, "Via Bencini") just j/k
5. "Forever Ocean Blue" (can definitely relate to the lyrics.)

Surprised that there hasn't been more comment about the excellent photos of RW and DC in the lyric sheet!

Ian H. Stewart

Hummingbird is required listening for any Strawbs fan. To my mind the musicians on this CD create a version of the band. If I was a Wakeman fan had never heard of Cousins, I would be disappointed with this recording. It should be Cousins & Wakeman (I know,I know) or The Strawbs. I sleep soundly at night knowing that I am not going to get a complete CD of NEW material from Dave and the band. I am quite happy hearing versions of previous records. I find the Wakeman "interludes" unnessecary and would have been better as parts of other songs with a writing credit or as one track ie "Temperament....". I enjoy the lively nature of some of these songs.I love "All In Vain" and that is the kind of tune I like to hear D.C. sing. .Something the Acoustic band should think about.

I am positive now that the Strawbs should have always had a violinist in the band. If they had just hired Eddie Jobson we would not have had to bother with Weaver and Hawken, (did I say that out loud - just kidding !) Finally, who is Mac McGann and what is a tiple, musically?

Bjørn Nilsen

Not a Strawbs album but a album from Mr. Strawbs himself (Dave Cousins) & Rick Wakeman. The album is more or less what I thought it would sound like, songs from two men in their best years that does not try to be Michael Jackson or anybody else. I have the feeling that they did what they wanted to do and that is good enough for me. I was hoping for an album with only new songs, but it is not and that is OK I say to myself.

Hummingbird is an album for listeners. There are not many songs that I would play talking/drinking with friends. If so then it must be "The Young Pretender" and "All in Vain" This is an album to sit down and listen to in the front of the fire with some Jack Daniels or good wine the love of your life in the October evening. To me it is a perfect album that can take me on a journey through time and I come back more relaxed than ever. We should be grateful that we have two gentlemen like Wakeman & Cousins that still want to share their music with us.

Wakeman is brilliant when he plays and he makes Cousins' music become more alive and with more - God knows what - but it gives me a good feeling when I listen to this album. I was hoping for more from Wakeman on this album, but his contribution is just perfect for this.

Favorite songs: Well first of all I find a song for every situation in my life, so it is difficult to pick. But I always liked the softer songs of Strawbs like "October to May" and so on. So if I have to choose: " October To May", "So Shall Our Love Die"," Higher Germanie", "Hummingbird", "Can You Believe", "Ocean Blue", "Young Pretender", "Stone Cold Is The Woman's Heart", "All In Vain".

Rick Wakeman's tunes are fantastic and Hummingbird would not be Hummingbird without Wakeman.

Adrian the Rock

I've just put Hummingbird in the car changer, after having only had chance to play it about three times previously, so I may come up with some more reflections later in the fortnight after I'm a bit more acquainted. But my initial reflections, other than the above, which had struck me from the outset, were, firstly, that I find the mood of Rick's playing makes a great counterpoint to Dave's less-than-cheerful song subjects. This leavens the whole album, indeed I find the whole of Rick's playing a joy to my ears, and his tinkly bits (sorry, I've decided to boycott the tw... word!) I find expressive and an important part of that. It works particularly well with the angry songs like "The Young Pretender", where it not just adds to the energy but also offers an optimism or hope through which to channel it. And on "October To May", which is Dave's depiction of one half of the wheel of life, it enables Dave's singing and playing to conjure up the colder images and feelings while Rick's keyboards project the hope, warmth and optimism of the spring to come.

Many of the other numbers, however, have yet to really grow on me. Lyrically, there are no fragile gentle butterflies, and at the moment probably none, as compositions, would make the top 50% if I took all DC and Strawbs songs and listed them in the order in which I most liked them. But apart from that may mean no more than that there aren't any that click very directly with my own personal aggregation of emotions and experiences.

But having said that, I still have a lot of affection for this CD and am bent in admiration to Dave's singing and playing, which are delightful too, and the way the songs do evoke and communicate their sentiments. I think the majority of Strawbs fans will find at least something they can like about this album.

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