In the overall scheme of things, the Strawbs may be confined
to that category referred to as the also-rans, an unappreciated sphere where
deserving artists garner appreciation only from diehard fans even as they fail
to gain notice from the world at large.
Granted, they deserved better; after releasing a string of exemplary
albums in the lat ‘60s/early ‘70s and making an unlikely transition from folk
to prog (and providing home turf for Rick Wakeman prior to his tenure with
Yes), they received enough attention and acclaim from FM and college radio to
thrust them to the brink of a big breakthrough.
Sadly, even the support of a major record label — A&M — failed to
put them over the edge, and after peaking early on with albums like Songs From The Witchwood, Grave New World and Bursting At The Seams, the band reaped diminished returns as the
‘70s wore on. The band’s sole mainstay,
Dave Cousins, attempted to keep the branding going with a revolving cast of
musicians, but in time it became clear that the group had overstayed its
welcome as they slipped deeper into undeserved obscurity.
Cousins would eventually put aside his musical pursuits and
delve into the world of radio programming, but towards the end of the ‘80s, he
opted to revive the group, reconvene various band mates, and journey back to
the world of recording under the aegis of his own label, Witchwood. Various archival albums, live releases and
Cousins solo efforts have made up the bulk of the Strawbs offerings ever since,
but with the Broken Hearted Bride,
Cousins and company get back to the business of recording a comeback.
Former fans will undoubtedly view this development with
heightened expectations, especially given the sky-high standard set by their
earlier outings. Indeed, those looking
for a return to the classic sound that was anchored by Cousins’ biting vocals,
the sweeping keyboards and a steadfast strum will be treated to more than a
trace of déjà vu. No, Broken Hearted Bride doesn’t hit the
highs of the aforementioned string of epoch LPs, and truth be told, it’s closer
in content to the band’s later outlay.
For the most part, the arrangements are largely overblown, a sound that
once found favor on AOR radio courtesy of bands like Styx,
Journey and others of that ilk. However,
it also finds a surprising concession to World music, especially in the
book-ending “The Call To Action” and “Action Replay.” And as if to reassure the faithful, there’s
a touching reprise of an archival offering, the tender, touching “We’ll Meet
Again Sometime,” a track that was a staple from their earliest incarnation.
best material is also its most effusive – “Christmas Cheer” with its affirming
refrain that repeats over and over the perfect chant for our times,
“Everything’s gonna be alright”; the persistent pull of “Deep in the Darkest
Night”; and an effusive and exuberant “You Know As Well As I.” While they don’t make Broken Hearted Bride the cheeriest prospect, it should at very
least put Strawbs’ faithful in a merry mood.
Tracks: “Christmas Cheer (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright),” “Deep in
the Darkest Night,” We’ll Meet Again Sometime” LEE ZIMMERMAN