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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Strawbs

Heartbreak Hill

Review by Gary Hill

This album in some ways is a bit an oddity. It was recorded in 1978, but for various contractual and other reasons, it wasn't released until 1995. This is a new remaster with four bonus songs (two demos and two live performances). I think this might be my favorite Strawbs album, really. It's got some killer prog at its core. 

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 4. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2020.

Track by Track Review
Something For Nothing
I dig the hard rocking electric guitar built into this cut. There is a proggy building up process, but then it drops quite a ways down for the vocals. The blast upward to the chorus is a real powerhouse. It gets into some killer prog as it continues. There is some high energy AOR prog here that leans toward metallic at times.
Another Day Without You
A folkier, mellower arrangement is on display here. This feels a bit more like something that could have come from early Genesis.
We Can Make It Together
This cut lands sort of between the previous two numbers. It's an energetic piece that has both harder rocking and more melodic prog elements. It has some solid hooks, and I really love the keyboard work on the tune.
Heartbreak Hill
The title track is brought in with a cool hard rocking concept. There is a stuttering, staccato aspect to the instrumental movement. This is pure prog rock magic with a bit of a metallic crunch. The synthesizer washes bring some real magic. The tune is a highlight of the set. The fast paced jam mid-track features some smoking hot guitar work and killer keyboard jamming. While this isn't the epic of the set, it is extended and features a lot of different shifts and changes along the road. 
Starting Over
Keyboard textures bring this into being. The cut grows outward from there. After running through the instrumental introduction, a dense vocal presence takes command. The piece keeps shifting and growing, though, launching into a series of prog jams from there. At nearly 11-minutes long, this is the true epic of the set. It eventually drops to a much mellower keyboard dominated section. As the vocals come over the top of that, the Genesis reference is even more valid. The cut eventually builds up, but never reaches the heights of earlier portions before a false ending is heard.  A vocal dense movement brings this back in with little accompaniment. The cut powers out from there into a smoking hot progressive rock jam. That eventually gets quite powered up and involved before taking the track to its close.
Two Separate People
Mellower with a lot of keyboard elements at play, this is an intriguing piece of music. There is some intriguing territory here, but the tune remains mellower and slower, throughout. It's very much set in a folk music vein with prog elements over the top.
Desert Song
A mainstream pop rock riff brings this into being. The cut has almost a glam rock vibe, calling to mind something like Sweet.
Let It Rain
A mainstream rocker at its core, this has a potent chorus. The tune builds out nicely based on the strength of that chorus section. It's not my favorite tune here, but is very strong, making it a solid choice for closer of the album proper.
Bonus Tracks:
         
Bring Out Your Dead (Home Demo)
This demo features a piano and vocal arrangement. There are some great melodies here, and the song is evocative.
Another Day Without You (Home Demo)
Another piano and vocal number, this is a bit more exploratory, but not a huge change from the cut that preceded it.
Heartbreak Hill (Live 2009)
A live rendition of the album's title track, this is powerhouse song. I think that the prog concepts are perhaps magnified here. I particularly dig the keyboard sounds on this performance.
Starting Over (Live 2009)
I love the soaring, energized hard rocking sound of this live performance. This is a real powerhouse tune that gains some real magic in the live setting. The mellower parts take on a real lushness.
 
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