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Strawbs: The Ferryman's Curse

Glenn Astarita By

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This beloved British progressive rock band started as a bluegrass unit in 1964 under the moniker, The Strawberry Hill Boys. But they shortened the group name to the Strawbs in 1967, when they soon morphed into the wonderful world of prog and enjoyed radio success integrating folk and related genres into its burgeoning signature sound. With its first album in eight years, leader/co-founder Dave Cousins realigns with his longtime musical associates, supplemented by keyboardist/guitarist Dave Bainbridge for a presentation flowing with majestic arrangements, elegant hooks and stinging riffs.

Cousins' authoritative vocal delivery is armed with a touch of medieval sentiment, akin to a sage who proselytizes about religion ("The Nails From The Hands of Christ," "The Ten Commandments") and love. In addition, Bainbridge's occasional synth-generated choir choruses add a hallowed vibe, alongside his keys-based orchestral treatments. On "The Song of Infinite Sadness," Cousins' and/or Dave Lambert's lovely acoustic guitar notes and Bainbridge's harmonious piano phrasings launch an upbeat ballad that fosters a sense of intimacy, complemented by Cousins' hush-toned vocals. Yet Lambert raises the pitch with resonating and tuneful extended notes, performed on electric. Here, the musicians execute a wistful dreamscape via hearty proclamations and drummer Tony Fernandez's relaxed pulse.

"The Familiarity of Old Lovers" includes Lambert's sustain-driven notes and melodic motifs. He trades fours with either Cousins or Bainbridge, leading to lush voicings and power-packed crescendos. And the ensemble continues its kaleidoscopic presentation with catchy, straight-four rock grooves and regal keys atop a pumping pulse and rollicking storyline on the closing "We Have the Power."

Indeed, this album looms as a wonderful testimonial to the group's 50th year in the business. Hence, the Strawbs coalesces glimpses of its past with a modern boost that yields an enchanting soundscape, contrasted with thrusting opuses and iridescent tonalities.

Track Listing: In The Beginning; The Nails From The Hands of Christ; The Song of Infinite Sadness; The Familiarity of Old Lovers; When the Spirit Moves; The Ten Commandments; The Reckoning; The Ferryman's Curse; BAts and Swallows; We Have the Power.

Personnel: David Cousins: vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, electric dulcimer, autoharp; Dave Lambert: vocals, bass, 12 string guitars; Tony Fernandez: drums and percussion; Dave Bainbridge: keyboards, electric & acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, bouzouki.

Title: The Ferryman's Curse | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Cherry Red Records

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