Strawbs - Ghosts

Year of Release: 1998
Label: A&M
Catalog Number: 540 937-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 43:35:00

Except in reference to Rick Wakeman, I had not really heard of Strawbs. And I had not heard them at all. Of course, when they were announced for the NEARfest 2004 lineup, I knew I would have to become a least passingly familiar with the band, especially as they were headliners. So, armed with a comment that Ghosts (1974) was one of their classics (actually, it was the NEARfest site that said that), that has become my starting point, and I'm glad I did. Recorded nearly 30 years ago (they began in July 1974), Ghosts is a wonderfully rich and diverse album, at times having a bit of a southern rock feel, at other times a very proggy, Genesis-like feel -- I even thought of Cat Stevens at one point. And, in reading the liner notes after coming to these impressions, the Cat Stevens comparison is apt, as vocalist/guitarist Dave Cousins was good friends with Stevens. And, "You And I (When We Were Young)" was recorded in the church at the school at which members of Genesis attended, Charterhouse School. Of course, what I hear of Genesis is a dramatic, theatrical element employed by Peter Gabriel, not the acoustics of a location. Oddly, aside from the tracks where the vocals sound decidedly English, you might think you are listening to an American band. I've not decided yet entirely whether I like this because of the references I hear in the music, or in its own right, but I think it's a terrific album nonetheless, delivering what I like in music - diversity, drama, humour, seriousness, darkness, lightness... emotion.

The album opens with the intense title track "Ghosts." It is on this track, one of my favourites of the album, that I also thought of Guy Manning - that is, he being influenced by Strawbs, of course, not the other way around. I asked Manning that question, he says no. But if you listen to his work, and this one of the Strawbs', there is an eerie connection. Nevermind the common theme of nightmares, as "Ghost" deals with the same subject as Manning has. It is the middle passage, "Night Light" (sung by lead guitarist Dave Lambert) that is the most intense, and urgent, especially in the vocals. The insistent guitar solo only underscores the heightened energy here - that hard pounding panic one feels during nightmares, what ever they be. The track itself begins slowly with the sound of harpsichords (John Hawken); within short order, acoustic guitars are added (a bit like Yes, though Wakeman had left the band by the time of this album's recording [I know, he is keys not guitar]). The vocals are rich and deep voiced, the arrangement sparse, yet textured. The more relaxed final section, "Guardian Angel," keeps the track rolling along with the rumbling drums of Rod Coombes (once of Stealer's Wheel). In the background, you hear chiming bells, the recording of which Cousins discusses in the liner notes.

The other track that is a bit darker is gloomy, moody "The Life Auction." At first we get highly treated vocals that get deeper and creepier as they progress. This leads into a more Genesis-like section, mainly the use of Mellotron and vocals, which truly sound like Nursery Cryme/Foxtrot era-Gabriel, but also too in the arrangement. Ah, but the music is much more intense, heavier in feel. Not as in metal, but as in being oppressive.... kinda Pink Floydy in that... yes, The Wall did come to mind, though that was still six years or so off (but I'm not adverse to anachronistic references, so there).

This is followed up by the seemingly sunnier, and yet still Genesis-like at times "Don't Try To Change Me." That sunniness comes from the light, taut guitar bits that accent the verses ... oh, those happy, sunny 60s sounds from Herman's Hermits, The Hollies, etc. And yet a dark underside that makes that sunniness seem a little false, or a little sinister, as the case may be. Nothing sinister here, but that upbeat nature underscores the protagonists determination to remain who he is.

The Strawbs started as bluegrass band in the late 60's, and this country, twangy element comes through in "Lemon Pie" (a song Cousins wrote for his wife). It's the guitars that will make you think of Southern Rock, and for me, of the Allman Brothers and the like specifically. It's a tart guitar sound, high and sweet, and yet not "pretty." So too does the honky-tonky-esque (especially that rolling piano) "Where Do You Go (When You Need A Hole To Crawl In)," a piece that will make you think of Bob Dylan, the Doobie Brothers, and of Keith Emerson's western-themed ELP excursions.

"Starshine/Angel Wine" is a mellower piece; piano, percussion, and strings all give this a very 70s feel - well, yes, it was the 70s, what a silly thing to say. But, oddly, it doesn't sound dated at all. In fact, none of it sounds dated, though clearly there is a decidedly 70s-ness about it. This piece, before it kicks into a higher gear, made me think of Don McLean. Once in the rockier mode, well, it's classic rock all the way.

The solo electronic piano piece "Remembering" leads right into "You And I (When We Were Young)," which adds vocals, the latter giving us another look at the band, a bit of a lullaby really and another where I thought of Manning and of Cat Stevens. Later, we get a shimmery, floaty, slidy guitar solo. This is one of those "lighters alight" kind of song, when you imagine live a hush comes over the audience as they sway to and fro together. It's an intimate piece, warm and comfortable, reflective. Very nice.

Great album, especially for the title track (as I said).

Ghosts (1. Sweet Dreams - 2. Night Light - 3. Guardian Angel) (8:30) / Lemon Pie (4:02) / Starshine/Angel Wine (5:15) / Where Do You Go (When You Need A Whole To Crawl In) (3:03) / The Life Auction (1. Impressions Of Southall From The Train - 2. The Auction) (6:52) / Don't Try To Change Me (4:28) / Remembering (0:55) / You And I (When We Were Young) (4:04) / Grace Darling (3:54) / Bonus Track: Changes Arrange Us (3:52)

David Cousins - vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, recorder
Dave Lambert - vocals, electric and acoustic guitars
John Hawken - piano, electric piano, harpsichord, Mellotron, Moog synthesizer, Hammond organ, pipe organ
Chas. Cronk - bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Rod Coombes - drums, congas, percussion, backing vocals

Strawbs (1969)
Dragonfly (1970)
Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios (1970)
From The Witchwood (1971)
Grave New World (1972)
Bursting At The Seems (1973)
Sandy And The Strawbs: All Our Own Work (1973)
Hero And Heroine (1974)
Ghosts (1974/1998)
Nomadness (1975)
Deep Cuts (1976)
Burning For You (1977)
Deadlines (1978)
Don't Say Goodbye (1987)
Preserves Uncanned (1991)
Sandy And The Strawbs (1991)
Ringing Down The Years (1991)
Greatest Hits Live (1993)
Heartbreak Hill (1995)
BBC In Concert (1995)
Concert Classics (1999)
The Complete Strawbs (Chiswick '98) (2000)
Acoustic Strawbs: Baroque & Roll (2001)
Blue Angel (2003)
Deja Fou (2004)
Acoustic Strawbs - Full Bloom (2004)
Live At NEARfest (2005)
Acoustic Strawbs - Painted Sky (2005)
Recollection (2006)
Heartbreak Hill - Platinum Edition (2006)
A Taste Of Strawbs (5CD box set) (2006)
NY '75 (2007)
Lay Down With The Strawbs (2008)
The Broken Hearted Bride (2008)
Dancing To The Devil's Beat (2009)
Sandy Denny & The Strawbs: The Complete Sessions (2010)
Strawbs At The BBC - Volume 1 - In Session (2010)
Strawbs At The BBC - Volume 2 - In Concert (2010)
Strawbs 40th Anniversary Celebration: Vol 1: Strawberry Fayre (2010)
Strawbs 40th Anniversary Celebration: Vol 2: Rick Wakeman and Dave Cousins (2010)
Hero And Heroine In Ascencia (2011)
Acoustic Strawbs - Acoustic Gold (2011)
Of A Time (2012)
Deadlines WML CD (2012)
Prognostic (2014)
Access All Areas (CD/DVD) (2015)
Live At Gettysburg (2017)
The Ferryman's Curse (2017)

Classic Rock Legends (2001)
The Complete Strawbs - Live At Chiswick House (2002)
Live In Tokyo '75/Grave New World - The Video (2003)
Acoustic Strawbs - Live At Hugh's Room, In Toronto (2004)
Lay Down With The Strawbs (2008)
Acoustic Strawbs - Live Hampton Court Palace, May 2009 (2009)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: July 25th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1370
Language: english


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