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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Strawbs

Live At Nearfest 2004

Review by Gary Hill

This live show from prog rock legends The Strawbs has just been released on CD. Much of the disc seems to be more along the lines of folk music, but then again, The Strawbs had a definite folk side to them. The vocals might be the toughest thing for a lot of progressive rock fans to take. The closest comparison would be Bob Dylan. This is a strong showing and very well recorded. I’d have to say that it is a “must have” for fans of the Strawbs – and probably for anyone who was at the show. Considering the modern recording technology applied to classic music from the band, this might be a great first introduction to their music to more modern progressive rock fans, too.

Track by Track Review
Out In the Cold
I’m not sure I’d call this “progressive rock.” It’s got a musical texture that seems to occupy the ground between The Byrds and The Band and the vocals are very much in the vein of Bob Dylan. This moves straight into the next track.
Round & Round
Keyboards bring us in with a dramatic and powerful motif. Acoustic guitar comes across weaving a melody. Then the keys take us in a new direction as this becomes more “song” oriented. They launch out into a killer progressive rock jam from there. The vocals are similar to the last track, but with a more hard rocking delivery. A weird segment mid track calls to mind a didgeridoo. This gives way to a reprise of the main song structure. Some of the guitar work on this reminds me a bit of Steve Howe and they take us through some interesting alterations as they carry on.

Lay Down
The acapella section that brings this in has more of that folk nature. As the instruments join it reminds me a bit of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and this is another that I’m not sure I’d tag with the “prog” moniker.
Burning For Me
Keyboards start this, more melodically than the introduction to “Round & Round.” This is pretty and just a bit mysterious as it starts. The vocals come in over this more or less piano based ballad motif. It takes a turn more towards folk later, but still there is this dramatic and powerful progressive rock element to the music. They take us through a number of intriguing alterations with these two seemingly disparate motifs making up the bulk of the track. The instrumental segment later is quite tasty.

Unlisted Track
This is a short spoken word segment talking about 9-11 and how the song that follows (written years earlier) relates to it.
New World
Here they give us a hard rocking track that combines progressive rock with Bob Dylan styled folk. It feels quite angry. It’s also quite powerful.

Autumn
A killer keyboard sound starts off this epic. Percussion joins as they move on. Sounds like a seagull or perhaps a dolphin join, but yet we still have not moved far from the origins. Eventually guitar brings in some more melody. Yet, this still remains very slow moving and dramatic. They bring in layers of sound after a time to power this upward in killer musical textures. This crescendos and then gives way to a balladic like structure that is beautiful and haunting. David Gilmour-like guitar weaves across. Then we move out into the vocal segment of the piece. The next instrumental section is dominated by keyboards (more textural than melodic) and again calls to mind Pink Floyd a bit. They take it back to the song proper and gradually build up again. Then the piano takes us into a pretty and melodic instrumental section, guitar joining as augmentation as they carry forward. The piano drives the next vocal segment – a very pretty one. Once more they build this up in some great ways, creating a wonderful sonic tapestry and moving it out in instrumental directions. This section continues to build and grow, eventually ending the piece.
Remembering / You and I (When We Were Young)
A fairly short keyboard solo leads this off and then it drops back to a balladic motif that feels quite folky in nature. This builds very gradually and organically upward. After a time it moves out into a guitar solo section that has a bit of a fusion feel to it. This takes us into a more powered up version of the song proper. A crescendo gives way to a new instrumental segment that’s keyboard driven, quite tasty and still gentle. This serves as the outro.
Heartbreaker
They come in with a more hard rocking guitar sound that’s a bit fusion-like. After some tentative strides they turn this out into a killer fast paced progressive rock riff. This section ends, though, serving just as the introduction here. They move it out to more melodic territory for the verse and then punctuate it with the killer riff. They work through a number of varied segments, but overall this is one of the most “rock” oriented tracks on the set. It’s a great piece of music and one of the highlights. How many songs are there with this title, though?
This Barren Land
This is another track that falls closer to folk music than prog. The bulk of it is a balladic guitar based folk composition, but they place some progressive rock jamming in to create some drama and break things up.

The River
Beautiful piano leads us out here and they build on that in gradual ways. Essentially a pretty progressive rock ballad, this still has some folk tendencies. The piano is the central driving force to music of this and for some reason parts of it remind me of early Genesis. They take us out into a Pink Floyd meets Genesis styled segment later. This is dramatic and wonderful and one of the highlights of the set. A crescendo here leads us straight into the next piece.

Down By The Sea
Feeling musically related to the previous track, this is more guitar driven than its predecessor and more definitely progressive rock than a lot of the material here. This intro, though, works through and then ends. A keyboard dominated mellower motif rises up from there. After a verse like this they power it up in a series of new segments and we’re back into rocking motifs. After a while they drop it way back down and this feels more like folk music. You can definitely hear echoes of Bob Dylan. They power it back up after a time, but I still hear Robert Zimmerman here.  Then it seems to end but instead we get a guitar line that calls to mind a more progressive rock oriented Def Leppard. Other instruments join and this becomes a powerful and dramatic instrumental journey from there. We get a tasty guitar solo as they continue down this road. Once they hit their stride with this extended segment (one of the best musical passages in the performance) they never look back. Instead they take this to the extended outro.

Hero & Heroine
A classic prog rock flourish serves as the introduction. Then they drop it back to a world music, fast paced vocal segment that has a definite Celtic texture to it. This is accented here and there with more full arrangements of progressive rock and turns out into a bouncy sort of Celtic styled prog jam later that calls to mind Tempest’s work. This gives way to a classically oriented keyboard section and we’re back into more traditional prog in a very dramatic way. These varying elements are merged in a new musical incarnation until they take us back into the bouncing Celtic elements again. They move between these stylings as they take it forward. A crescendo segues into the next piece.
Round & Round (Reprise)
Killer keyboard textures bring in this reprise of the earlier cut. Only percussion accompanies as the vocals join. They are delivered in a manner that calls to mind the more theatrical of Peter Gabriel era Genesis or Fish era Marillion. Eventually this leads us out into a full band progressive rock arrangement of the central themes and a guitar breakdown takes us through the outro.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
The encore for the show, an incredibly pretty piano line brings this in and holds it. It serves as the backdrop for the vocals and this is another that at times makes you think a bit of early Genesis. Balladic this one seems to merge classical, folk and progressive rock in one keyboard and vocal based journey. Guitar (feeling a bit like something from Brian May) joins just before the three minute mark, but they still leave the track sedate, the guitar just weaving a solo line. It fades away at the end of this segment and we’re back where we started.  They continue on this way for the remainder of the song. It’s actually quite a wonderful (if understated) piece of music and a great way to close things out.

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