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Music Review: The Strawbs – Painted Sky

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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 lead 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 an 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 Stawbs 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.

"Benedictus," from Grave New World is an uplifting hypnotic tune that just hangs with you. "Midnight Sun," from Hero and Heroine, is a subtle yet beautiful song from Cousins.

“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 take 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.


Painted Sky
song listing

Oh How She Changed
Grace Darling
Shine on Silver Sun
Antique Suite: The Reaper/We Must Cross the River/Antiques & Curios
Benedictus
Midnight Sun
Cold Steel
If
Autumn: Hero's Theme/Deep Summer's Sleep/The Winter Long

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.