Wednesday, 20 July 2016

"Grave New World" by STRAWBS (1998 A&M Remaster Pieces 'Expanded Edition' CD) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Heavy Disguises..."

After clocking up four albums between May 1969's debut "Strawbs" and July 1971's "Witchwood" (two with Yes Keyboardist Rick Wakeman on board) - the STRAWBS (shortened from Strawberry Hill Boys) finally rewarded the patience of A&M Records A&R men with a big fat hit album - the fondly remembered "Grave New World" from February 1972.

Even without a single to plug it - but armed with a tri-gatefold sleeve and natty booklet within original copies - "Grave New World" climbed up to No. 11 in the UK LP charts and lay the ground for their 'Rock' record breakthrough - "Bursting At The Seams" in February 1973 which went all the way to No. 2.

"Grave New World" is seen as their last overtly 'Folk Rock' LP and features what many feel was the classic Strawbs line-up. Here are the grim (slightly new) details...

UK released July 1998 - "Grave New World" by STRAWBS on A&M Records 540 934-2 (Barcode 731454093422) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Two Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (42:39 minutes):

1. Benedictus
2. Hey, Little Man...Thursday's Child
3. Queen Of Dreams
4. Heavy Disguise
5. New World
6. Hey Little Man...Wednesday's Child
7. The Flower And The Young Man [Side 2]
8. Tomorrow
9. On Growing Older
10. Ah Me, Ah My
11. Is It Today, Lord?
12. The Journey's End
Tracks 1 to 12 are their 5th album "Grave New World" - released February 1972 in the UK on A&M Records AMLH 68078 and in the USA on A&M Records SP-4344. Produced by The Strawbs - all songs written by Dave Cousins except "Heavy Disguise" by John Ford. "Ah Me, Ah my" by Tony Hopper and "Is It Today Lord" by Richard Hudson.

13. Here It Comes - non-album track released as a UK-only 7" single April 1972 on A&M Records AMS 7002 with the album cut "Tomorrow" as its B-side
14. I'm Going Home - a Strawbs track issued in the UK as a DAVE COUSINS solo 7" single in September 1972 on A&M Records AMS 7032 with "Ways And Means" on the B-side. Both songs turned up on the September 1972 first solo LP by Cousins called "Two Weeks Last Summer" on A&M Records AMLS 68118. Neither the single nor the album received US release.

DAVE COUSINS – Lead Vocals, Acoustic and 12-String Guitar, Electric Guitar, Electric-Acoustic Dulcimer, Recorders
TONY HOPPER – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar and Auto Harp
BLUE WEAVER – Organ, Piano, Harmonium, Mellotron and Clavioline
JOHN FORD – Vocals and Bass
RICHARD HUDSON – Vocals, Drums, Percussion, Tablas and Sitar on "Is It Today, Lord?"

Trevor Lucas and Anne Collins sing backing vocals on "Benedictus"
Robert Kirby Silver Band on "Heavy Disguise"
Tony Visconti Arranged and Provided 'Chorus' Vocals for "Ah Me, Ah My"

The 12-page booklet has typically in-depth liner notes from a great chronicler of music - JOHN TOBLER (with thanks to Dave Cousins) and the centre pages are the 'Paper Tiger' painting that graced the inner tri-gatefold (William Blake's painting is on the front cover and his verse on the last page). Recorded at Morgan Studios in November 1971 with some further work at Island Studios - the tapes are clearly in great shape because the PETER WAKE Remaster (done at Bourbery-Wake Studios) is gorgeous to listen too - all that great original production shining through. But notable and sloppy omissions include "Queen Of Dreams" (track 3) and "On Growing Older" (track 9) - both are missing entirely from the track-by-track session notes on Page 10 (who played what on what) and it appears the booklet has never been corrected.

Supposedly the story of one man's life from cradle to the grave - the album opens with Cousins getting all hymn-like on "Benedictus" - three of the band's vocals joined by Fairport's Trevor Lucas and British Contralto singer Anne Collin. With a heavy-on-the-organ intro and strummed dulcimer strings rattling around the speakers – the songs feels very English Folk-Rock (in a good way). In direct contrast we then get Cousins on his own with his Acoustic Guitar for the one-minute of "Hey Little Man...Thursday's Child" - the kind of pretty ditty that enthrals even after all these years (beautifully produced too).

Things take a decidedly trippy turn with the backwards guitars, dulcimers and Mellotron of "Queen Of Dreams" - while John Ford gets his first look in on the excellent "Heavy Disguise" - a track many fans would have easily issued as a winning 45 (he would of course form Hudson-Ford after they both left the Strawbs in the mid 70ts). But the Mellotron melodrama of "New World" feels leaden and tired – like bad Procol Harum. Thankfully Side 1 ends on the second short but very pretty Cousins melody - "Hey Little Man...Wednesday's Child" – as sweet as first part.

Side 2 opens with echoed Acapella vocals before "The Flower And The Young Man" settles into a sort of Incredible String Band power ballad - Ford's Bass incredibly clear in the mix. "Tomorrow" is another Prog plodder I'm afraid that irritates instead of lifts - far better is the superb "On Growing Older" - a beautifully melodic piece and one of the album's highlights. The 'cor blimey mate' days gone by of "Ah Me, Ah My" (sung by Tony Hopper and originally produced by Gus Dudgeon) is the kind of song they obviously thought was funny and it isn't. But things return to Strawbs form with the finisher "Is It Today, Lord?" - Richard Hudson doing a blinder on the Sitar and tables acting like he's just discovered ISB's "Wee Tam And The Big Huge"...

The two UK 7" single Bonus Tracks turn out to just that - actual bonuses - in fact I'd argue that "Here It Comes" is better than some of the lesser tunes on the GNW LP.

So not all genius - but so much worthy of your hard earned post-Brexit pound. And "Bursting At The Seams" from 1973 was even better in my book...

PS: see also my review for the hugely underrated "Dragonfly" from 1970 by STRAWBS

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