Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Strawbs - From The Witchwood (1971)


  

Released July 1971

Recorded at AIR Studios, London

This was considered to be the transitional album between The Strawbs being a folk band and a progressive rock one. I know which side of them I prefer - this one. There are some delightful folk-rock moments on here. Folky, laid-back vocals backed by a muscular, solid bass sound and some rock guitar interjections. Add to that some powerful rock drumming and you have quite a captivating mix. The Strawbs weren’t electric folk in the way Steeleye Span or early seventies Fairport Convention, or even Fotheringay and Pentangle were from this period. They did not go down the traditional folk ballads route. They were almost country rock in places, and even their folky songs are quite rock influenced.

TRACK LISTING

1. A Glimpse Of Heaven
2. Witchwood
3. Thirty Days
4. Flight
5. The Hangman And The Papist
6. Sheep
7. Cannondale
8. The Shepherd's Song
9. In Amongst The Roses
10. I'll Carry On Beside You

“A Glimpse Of Heaven” is a nice, acoustic, bucolic-style folky number, while “Witchwood” is perfect, bassy folk rock. Acoustic guitars and harmonious vocals augmented by buzzy electric guitar and that rumbling, infectious bass sound. “Thirty Days” has some delicious Eastern-style guitar parts. It is almost CSNY-influenced in that sort of sleepy country rock style, with hints of Pink Floyd in its lyrical delivery.  Even more in that vein is the wistful, Beatles-esque “Flight”. The bass is beautiful on this one. It is all very dreamy and trippy but then half way through a huge rock drum, bass and guitar passage bursts into life. Great stuff. Rick Wakemen’s Deep Purple-esque organ introduces “The Hangman And The Papist”, which is the most narratively folky of the tracks. When I was a glam rock loving schoolboy in the early seventies I hated groups like this and the boys who liked them. Time has changed my attitude, however, and there is a lot in this song that is similar to David Bowie’s “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud”, which I liked at the time.

“Sheep” is a madcap piece of Jethro Tull-esque rock with a Doors-like swirling organ solo. I am never going to seriously love this material, but neither will I condemn it. It definitely has an appeal which merits an occasional play for me. “Cannondale” features some more beguiling, George Harrison-influenced Eastern-sounding hippy guitar parts. “The Shepherd’s Song” has some “Hunky Dory” acoustic guitars and a very David Bowie atmosphere to it. Maybe unsurprising as Tony Visconti produced this album and Rick Wakeman plays on it (he played on “Hunky Dory” too). Visconti did not produce “Hunky Dory” which was released in December of 1971 (this was released in July of that year) however, but I am sure there was some crossover somewhere.

“In Amongst The Roses” is an acoustic, trippy, pastoral song the like of which Nick Drake put out a few years later, and many others now attempt to emulate. The acoustic guitar is crystal clear on this song. Excellent. “I’ll Carry On Beside You” is a solid, rock ballad with some powerhouse drumming accompanied by some alehouse-style folky vocals. It has a killer guitar solo half way through and a glam-rock style guitar intro.

The remastering has apparently improved the sound quite considerably. It still has a few rough and ready edges, even now, however. Overall, as i said earlier, I will never fully love this album, but it most definitely has its good points and is certainly worth the odd listen, every now and again.

C+

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