It’s been nearly 53 years since the Strawbs formed in their hometown in London. From their bluegrass/folk roots and into their golden-era of the Progressive Rock movement, they’ve released some of the best albums including Bursting at the Seams, From The Witchwood, Grave New World, Hero & Heroine, Ghosts, and Dragonfly. What they would do is creating magic in their music during that time period with storytelling songs that would make you close your eyes and imagine a movie inside your head.
This year, Strawbs have released a new album in eight long years after the release of their 2009 album, Dancing to the Devil’s Beat. The Ferryman’s Curse which is released on the Esoteric Antenna label, is new material that they’ve unleashed. And for me, it is a very interesting release. Since discovering their music while I was at Houston Community College 12 years ago on the Prog Archives website, their music always intrigued me.
Produced by Chris Tsangarides (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, and Yngwie Malmsteen) while the line-up contains Dave Cousins, lead guitarist Dave Lambert, bassist Chas Cronk and drummer Tony Fernandez who recorded and toured in the ‘70s. And in the line-up is keyboardist and guitar virtuoso Dave Bainbridge of Iona who blend Celtic Folk, Rock, and Ambient Music, brings in the perfect combination for Strawbs.
The name of the albums as I’ve mentioned is called, The Ferryman’s Curse, is also the title-track as a continuing sequel to the song, The Vision of the Lady of the Lake from Strawbs second album, Dragonfly which was originally released on the A&M label in 1970 and produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, Gentle Giant, T. Rex, and Sparks). And the five highlights on here show that Strawbs bringing more ideas to the table.
The Nails from the Hands of Christ is one of the most haunting compositions dealing with young people’s relationship with the Church. Chas’ mysterious bass riff and the guitar improvisations sets up the subject matter of showing that this isn’t a place you do not want to go near of the scenario and what’s happening behind closed doors inside the church.
The song mentions albums, vinyl, Bruce Springsteen, mobile phones, their description on who the lord our savior is, google, drugs, and mobile phones to name a few. And of course a symphonic rising section done by the Organ from Bainbridge himself. You can hear the Mellotron choir/strings setting up the innocence walking towards a deadly trap for what is about to happen.
This is a risky subject, but it is a challenging composition for Cousins to describe both the skeletons and the white elephant in the closet underneath the church. But it is an eye-opener for what is going on. And you can imagine the victims are finally standing up and speaking out to get ready to blow the whistle and letting them know what has happened to them.
The Reckoning is a short instrumental. The Strawbs do this as if making the listener know that some creature is about to creep up behind them at any second. You have that situation to fill in the void with the Piano, Acoustic Guitar, and the Mellotron whilst the band take a small bit of a film score as if they were doing one of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western from the ‘60s.
The Familiarity of Old Lovers is their nod to both the Greg Lake and Post-Greg Lake-era of King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard. Cousins describes about the loved ones who were with the one they cherished and married, have decided to move on to start a new chapter in their lives. It is a bitter-sweet composition that begins with this flamenco-sque sound on the acoustic guitar.
You can imagine yourself walking into a café as the Mellotron gives this wonderful scenery of what was, and what is now by letting go both of the past and the present. Understanding that time has passed, and things are changing, but remembering the good times they had spent together for many years. And keeping the good memories inside your pocket.
We Have the Power is medieval prog folk. You have this Moog fanfare and Mellotron choir introduction whilst coming up with a rising rhythmic sound of setting up the momentum of coming home from a long and difficult journey as success has been achieved from power, strength, and in the palm of your hands. It is also a time to celebrate of the accomplishments they’ve achieved.
The title-track again as I’ve mentioned, is the sequel to The Vision of the Lady of the Lake. It takes place several years after the events of the 1970 epic. The Boatman is now married, but the vision of her from the original track, he tries to forget that and move on with his life. It is mysterious and intense, but also knowing that death is coming for him with a heavy price.
The Organ and Mellotron set up the scenario between the characters while Cousins is telling you the story and he’s letting the listeners know that it’s not going to end well for the Boatman. You can imagine this as a movie inside your head of what is about to happen next.
The Ferryman’s Curse is perhaps a good album. Not great, but a good album. It is the same thing I felt with Procol Harum’s new album Novum. It didn’t grab me a few times, but on Strawbs’ new album, it is quite clear that Dave himself isn’t in full circle yet, but I can imagine he and the band have some more tricks up their sleeves for a few more years to come.