PAINTED SKY - REVIEWS AND COMMENTS
PRETTY STUNNING - Preview by Dick Greener
This was an early mix which Dave Cousins sent me - more to do says DC, but it's already pretty stunning.
This is another beautifully produced album from the team that brought us Live At Nearfest, a near perfect recording of some of the later additions to the Acoustic Strawbs' repertoire (the earlier set being pretty faithfully covered by Baroque & Roll) as subtly enhanced with Chas's contributions on 12 string, bass, bass pedals and vocal - a man of many parts as they say. Includes most of the all-time acoustic favourites which have been missing from CD till now, particular the recently introduced tour de force "The Antiques Suite" which is imply magnificent. Only "Autumn" has been released before on the Full Bloom album, which was of course recorded by the previous line-up.
This is a must have album for Strawbs fans. Release date to be confirmed - likely in December 2005.
Oh How She Changed - Opening harmonics, DL takes the Tony Hooper vocal part, with Chas joining in with some light bass pedal work. After the accapella first chorus, driving six and twelve-string guitars join in. The vocals - DL's and the DC harmonies are crystal clear. DL adds a fine acoustic solo before the final call and response outro, with Chas adding the high notes to Cousins' responses. A perfect reflection of how this song has become a staple of the Acoustic Strawbs repertoire.
Autumn - DL's immediately recognisable opening riff is picked up quickly by the other two to allow him to add his high neck slide seagull noises. Gentle arpeggios for the 12 string over DC's strumming, then Lambert's lead figure leads into "Deep Summer's Sleep" section. DC plays the opening figure for that, embellished by Lambert lead. Cousins' starts low and slightly growly, in perfect voice for this song, and the harmonies are just right. The interplay between the three instruments is polished and tight. The bridge between this and "The Winter Long" adds bass pedals (what DC refers to as Chas's "milk bottle sound". "Winter Long" starts with simple picking from Cousins, and Lambert's slide picking out the melody, 12 string joining shortly. Lambert's voice is soulful and plaintive, and as the guitars get louder towards the end, the final choruses with the three-part vocals are stirring and anthemic, ending again with a little touch of bass pedal.
Cold Steel - This new Lambert song from Deja Fou, has been one of the hits of that album. The mix of Lambert's guitar riff, Cousins' inventive banjo part and Chas's 12-string drives the song along with a level of underlying menace, enhanced by a bass-heavy bass pedals setting sitting just underneath the stringed instruments. It quietens down in the middle and you can hear the interwoven guitars/banjo very clearly, before the third verse kicks back in at a higher level. Lambert and Chas carry the riff to the close, while Dave adapts the banjo part with a few arhythmic figures.
New World - Bass pedals set to mellotron, which successfully recreates the rich sound this track deserves, underline Cousins' opening strums, rising in intensity as Lambert joins in. Cousins' voice is raw and emotional. Chas plays bass on this one, which gives it power, specially when combined with Lambert's power acoustic chord work in the second verse.
The Antique Suite - Boy have I been looking forward to hearing this recorded.
The intro to the first section "The Reaper" begins a little loosely, but quickly gels, Lambert's guitar taking on the Wakeman harpsichord role perfectly over Cousins modal guitarwork and Chas's fluid bass. The two Daves blend together perfectly on the harmony lines. Bass pedals join for the bridge to the second section, with I think a quick detune for Dave.
The second section "We Must Cross The River" is built round Cousins' guitar and Chas on 12-string (a quick changeover there), with Dave Lambert adding the guitar riff between verses and taking the gentle Tony Hooper vocal perfectly. The chorus kicks up a level with all three voices, each vocal line perfectly audible and meshing well. Another bridge - Lambert over bass pedals (whilst Chas swapping back to bass to boot).
The third section is built on a Lambert riff, counterpointed by bass, Cousins delivering the vocal redolent of loss and heartbreak. As it develops, there's a slightly atonal guitar part from DC which matches the mood of the song perfectly, until it all goes soft for the last line of the section, and another bass pedal/Lambert guitar bridge.
The final section "Hey It's Been A Long Time" starts off with Cousins' actually detuning strings into another tuning. Robust strumming and that shifting riff from the two guitarists, over an matching bass line, the two Daves initially sing the chorus vocal (later joined by Chas, another high part), and then Lambert handles the Tony Hooper verses. The song ends with repeated choruses, with some scat variations in timing, a nice loose "folk club" sort of ending.
Hard Hard Winter - Lambert on guitar and Chas on bass take the lead figure in the intro, Dave brings on the bittersweet vocal, almost recreating the sibilant "ice" which was the result of some studio trickery back in the Deep Cuts mixing session. The mix of the three voices is a pretty good recreation of the wash of vocals on the harmony/chorus/middle eight parts, and Dave Lambert's acoustic guitar solo is absolutely note-bloody perfect. With hindsight, this was crying out for Acoustic Strawbs treatment and in no way disappoints.
Midnight Sun - Lambert lead melody over gentle 6 and 12 string in the intro, then switching to eBow for the first verse. Cousins voice again low and growly, joined by Chas, and Lambert, but the latter usually well back from the mic so as not to dominate the soft choral backing. The second verse sees Lambert take the ascending acoustic riff, with the eBow returning for the last time. Glad they persisted with this, as it is also a fine reprise of a lovely song.
Grace Darling - Cousins intro, Chas back on the 12-string and Lambert joining in picking up both the bass notes and the high notes at different points, a pretty faithful recreation of how it has been done acoustically in the past with Dave and Brian, the mix of the three guitars giving a richer wash of sound than just two could manage, further enhanced by a very light touch on the bass pedals. Lambert cuts loose with a very tasty acoustic solo before the last verse, which ends with a rousing reprise of the opening riff.
If - Another Deja Fou track, Cousins' pretty love song. Very sparse instrumentation, two guitars - Cousins alternating between picking and strumming, Lambert adding ornamentation, and bass, with Cousins low voice well up in the mix. A very intricate and tight arrangement for the instrumental passages, which works very well indeed.
Hero And Heroine - A fitting closer, one that has been a real crowd pleaser over the time it has been in the acoustic set. The Cousins shanty riff, with underlying bass pedals, as Lambert shakes himself loose on the bodhran with jaunty tickles and booming rolls there. During the near-accapella (just Cousins guitar) second verse, Lambert switches to guitar and builds up the riff with power chords. The quiet section after the third version starts out just with Lambert, again note-perfect from the record, as the others rejoin, it kicks up yet another gear for the screaming last stanza. Cousins riff again, Lambert note bending, then a sort of "drunken sailor" counterpoint before some more power chords leading to a "hey" from DL and the abrupt close.
A TESTAMENT TO THE STRAWBS - Review by T. Michael Testi
Reproduced by kind permission of Blogcritics Magazine
The Strawbs began life in the 1960s as a bluegrass band under the name Strawberry Hill Boys. Soon they began recording their own material with Dave Cousins being the primary contributor. They signed in 1968 with A & M Records and recorded their first single "Oh How She Changed" and released their first album Strawbs in 1969.
After quite a bit of success in the 70's beginning with Bursting at the Seams, hitting a peak with Hero And Heroine and Ghosts and ending with Deadlines in 1978 and the subsequent 1980 decision of Cousins to leave the band and work in radio led to the demise of the Strawbs.
The Strawbs reformed in 1983 on Rick Wakeman's TV Show Gas Tank; Wakeman recorded two albums with the Strawbs - Just A Collection of Antiques and Curios and From The Witchwood. After getting back together, the Strawbs recorded four albums throughout the 80s and 90s.
It wasn't until 1998 that they really got back together when Cousins staged a 30th anniversary concert in London at Chiswick Park. While there were several line-up versions of the band that played that day, it was the last one; the Bursting At The Seams line-up plus Brian Willoughby that became the core of the band that toured in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
It was in 2001 that the acoustic version of the Strawbs was born featuring Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk with the release of their first album Baroque and Roll. An electric version was formed in 2004 that features the Hero and Heroine line up which toured with the acoustic version.
Painted Sky was recorded in two shows in 2004 and 2005 at the Painted Sky Studios. This is the first live album featuring the Cousins, Lambert and Cronk line-up of Acoustic Strawbs.
"Oh How She Changed" is an acoustic rendition of the Strawbs first single that begins in accapella for the first chorus with the six and twelve string guitars joining in. The vocals are crystal clear. "Grace Darling," from Ghosts, has Cousins beginning the intro and has Lambert doing a great acoustic solo right before the last verse.
"Shine On Silver Sun" which was a minor hit from the Hero and Heroine album begins slowly and builds with great harmonies throughout. "Antique Suite" from Antiques and Curios is built into four sections and at over 14 minutes is the longest of the collection.
"Cold Steel", from the Deja Fou album is a mix of Cousins banjo, Lambert's guitar and Cronk's 12-string driving the piece. "New World" has Cousins strumming, Cronk on bass and Lambert working power chords. "If," also from Deja Fou, is a simple two guitar love song that works very well.
"Autumn," also from Hero And Heroine , features arpeggios for the twelve string building to great interplay between the three guitars. It features a Lambert opening riff that is taken up by the others so that he can add his high neck slide seagull noises. Toward the end, the guitars build with the final choruses and three part vocals finishing.
Painted Sky is a testament to the Strawbs and what a group can do when they remain dedicated to their core values and their fans. It is a best of album, it is an un-plugged album, it is an album that will take you back to what the Strawbs are about and how they have remained relevant three and a half decades from their inception. They are able to take their classics and reinvent them around those who are playing.
Painted Sky is a must own for the Strawbs fan and for those who liked Hero And Heroine and the core Strawbs albums from the seventies. Is it for the person who has never listened to the Strawbs? I think that it is, although I might recommend getting Hero And Heroine and Grave New World first, just to experience the groups first interpretations of some of these songs.
[T. Michael Testi is a photographer, writer, software developer and ardent fantasy football fan and of horse race handicapping. He also blogs at )PhotographyTodayNet and at All This and Everything Else.]
AS INDISPENSABLE NOW AS EVER BEFORE - Review by Eric Thom (from "Penguin Eggs")
The Strawbs have endured despite countless personnel changes over almost four decades. The secret to their longevity lies in their ability to reinvent much of the music they made famous in the late '60s and early '70s, reworking classic tracks around David Cousins' inimitable lead vocals and the guitar skills of long-time Strawb Dave Lambert and the recently returned Chas Cronk.
What was progressive then remains more than current-sounding if not essential today as evidenced across these nine tracks, recorded live-in-the-studio. All but two are Strawbs' standards, rearranged to maximum effect to capitalize on Lambert's propulsive acoustic guitar style, Cronk's inventive rhythm, Cousins' olde-school, hypnotic voice and their collective, haunting harmonies.
If youšve witnessed the current configuration live, this is a fair representation of their show. If you havenšt checked in with the Strawbs since their earlier heyday, you owe yourself this intoxicating re-acquaintance. "Benedictus" will tell you in 3:50 or less that the Strawbs are as indispensable now as ever before.
Comments from Witchwood - the Strawbs Discussion Group
Just got my copy of Painted Sky in today (was supposed to be a Christmas gift for me, but was too tempted!) and it is INCREDIBLE! Only listened to "Oh How She Changed", but it's flawless so far. I especially like the photos of the boys. Good Stuff! Great Job Boomer.
Having a sneaky headphones-at-midnight listen to Painted Sky - been so busy lately and the only time I get for any serious music listening seems to be in the early hours these days - just gotta say this album is terrific. So many goosepimply moments I couldn't possibly count them, it's a truly beautiful masterpiece and I love it.
Painted Sky arrived in my mailbox today! It is spectacular! I think I am going to be turning in late - so much for a trip to the gymnasium at 5:00 a.m.!