Tuesday, 30 June 2020

"Hero And Heroine" by STRAWBS – February 1974 (USA) and April 1974 (UK) LP on A&M Records featuring Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, John Hawken (ex Nashville Teens and Renaissance), Chas Cronk and Rod Coombes (ex Stealers Wheel) (August 1998 UK A&M ReMasterPieces CD Reissue with Two Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks – Roger Wake Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Out Of The Cold..."

Band's catalogues can be funny - especially big groups of real longevity. After six whole albums with A&M Records since 1969, The Strawbs finally hit commercial paydirt with their brand of melodious Folk-Prog when the catchy "Part Of The Union" 45 and its parent album "Bursting At The Seams" both made No. 2 in the UK single and LP charts in early 1973. An impressive feat, and surely their next platter would follow the same success in Progressive Rock obsessed Blighty? Well, yes and no.

John Ford and Richard Hudson had left after "Bursting..." to an alternative career as HUDSON-FORD whilst Keyboardist Blue Weaver went to the big money of The Bee Gees ("Jive Talkin' ahoy) - leaving the core duo of Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert to recruit new band members. They called in John Hawken - an ex Nashville Teens Keyboardist whom they'd heard on recently accomplished Renaissance LPs and Chas Cronk and Rod Coombes - both ex the recently imploded Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty's Stealers Wheel. The five gelled and fresh songwriting seemed to promise great new symphonic things.

But as I recall, "Hero And Heroine" arrived in shops with a whimper in Britannia whereas it 'made them' in the USA - something "Bursting At The Seams" had not done despite its huge success in England. In fact A&M Records released "Hero And Heroine" in America two months 'before' the UK long-player and The Strawbs toured the new LP there first. So the band now finds that even with a meagre No. 93 placing on the US Billboard Rock LP charts in the USA – being just inside the top 100 has guaranteed them hundreds of thousands of sales Stateside (steady sales too) with mega audiences of 17,000 and more lapping it up. But when they returned home, the new Strawbs line-up scraped a No. 35 LP chart placing in April 1974 (and for only 3 weeks) and got to play halls of 200 people in Leicester - much of the good work of 1973 evaporated and the group all but forgotten on their own turf.

So in some respects, their rather brilliant and musically accomplished "Hero And Heroine" album has been a wee bit of a lost gem in the UK for decades now and in post pandemic-lockdown 2020, seems to remain so. I say let's give its music a second go-round and get it 'out of the cold'. Here are the silver suns...

UK released August 1998 - "Hero And Heroine" by STRAWBS on A&M 540 935-2 (Barcode 731454093521) is part of their A&M ReMasterPieces CD Reissue Series. It offers the 1974 LP with Two Bonus Tracks (one Previously Unreleased) and plays out as follows (44:26 minutes):

1. Autumn [Side 1]
2. Sad Young Man
3. Just Love
4. Shine On Silver Sun
5. Hero & Heroine [Side 2]
6. Midnight Sun
7. Out In The Cold
8. Round And Round
9. Lay A Little Light On Me
10. Hero's Theme
Tracks 1 to 10 are their seventh album "Hero And Heroine" - released February 1974 in the USA on A&M Records SP-3607 and April 1974 in the UK on A&M Records AMLH 63607. Produced by DAVID COUSINS and TONY ALLOM - it peaked at No. 94 in the USA and No. 35 in the UK LP charts.

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased):
11. Still Small Voice
12. Lay A Little Light On Me (Early Version)

DAVE COUSINS - Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
DAVE LAMBERT - Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
JOHN HAWKEN - Keyboards - Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Mellotron and Synthesizer
CHAS. CRONK - Bass, Synthesizer and Vocals
ROD COOMBES - Drums, Percussion and Vocals

The 8-page booklet features JOHN TOBLER liner notes benefitting greatly from new interviews with principal songwriter Dave Cousins. He talks of rehearsals in Devon, Lambert's "Round And Round" being loosely based on "Substitute" by The Who and even weirder, the moody start of the eight and half minute three-part album opener "Autumn" being edited by A&M USA and circulated as a B-side 45 to "Round And Round", only to find the 'sexy Prog funk' of The Strawbs being featured on black radio stations and the band being applauded by African Americans as they debuted it at gigs. It's an informative and affectionate read but the real meat and potatoes lies in the new ROGER WAKE Remaster and two Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks – one a sessions outtake "Still Small Voice" and the other an alternate version that a body can see why it was left in the can (doesn't work nearly as well as the released version). To the music...

"Autumn" nails its three-part epic Prog Rock credentials to the mast as "Heroine's Theme" ushers into your room with a surprisingly sinewy Bass followed by Mellotron - only to usher in a pretty duet battle between acoustic and electric guitars called "Deep Summer's Sleep". The last part "The Long Winter" gives us a jaunty hold-on-to-me chorus, as Cousins and the boys wax lyrical about soft falling snow. New boys Rod Coombes came up with the very Greenslade "Sad Young Man" - a sort of Rock meets Prog ballad with great playing and production. The band suddenly morphs into The Flamin Groovies meets the New York Dolls with the out-and-out Rock 'n' Rolling of "Just Love" - a Dave Lambert rocker. Things return to pastel with the lovely "Shine On Silver Sun" and an old song as far as the album was concerned. Trying to capitalise on "Part Of The Union" - A&M had issued "Shine On Silver Sun" in the UK as a stand-alone 45 as far back as August 1973 with "And Wherefore" on the flipside (A&M Records AMS 7082). Despite its strong melody and catchy chorus, it managed No. 34 on the UK charts and di naught when it was issued November 1973 in the States.

"Hero And Heroine" has never been a fave - too heavy-handed for me. But "Midnight Sun" is where the record really takes off - a song co-written with Cousins and Cronk and apparently inspired by graffiti on a loo wall. At three minutes eleven, "Out In The Cold" feels like a mash up of Cat Stevens meets The Ozark Mountain Daredevils with its rolling acoustic guitars, harmonica and sudden electric guitars. Now I know how it feels to be old, and out in the cold, Cousins songs. With its very Prog heavy synth opening and Aerosmith rock guitar verses, "Round And Round" was given a 45 in the USA with "Heroine's Theme" on the flipside. Empty creeds and themes to suit shysters - Cousins asks to "Lay A Little Light On Me". I'd admit its over ambitious nature might put some off, but I have to say that "Lay A Little Light On Me" and its very ELO Prog riffage as it segues into "Hero's Theme" (the LP's last track) is one of the reasons I love it. The two and half-minute Spanish guitar of "Still Small Voice" Cousins advises was an unfinished idea - its Prog second half trying to find a place to go but not quite finding it (a cool bonus actually). And although the alternate "Lay A Little Light On Me" has more guitars, it's not a good way, but too busy busy for its own good.

Despite having made a slew of great albums (I've also reviewed the Cousins solo set "Two Weeks Last Summer" from 1972 that is a fabulous find) - The Strawbs always seem to be the fourth bridesmaid of four at the big Prog Rock wedding. This is a cool album in so many ways, maybe not the masterpiece many think it is, but so worth your investigation. And platter seven is available for under an English sixer in most places. Enjoy peeps...

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