Tuesday, 21 February 2017

"Dragonfly by STRAWBS [feat Dave Cousins, Tony Hooper, Rick Wakeman and Paul Brett] (2008 A&M Records/UMC 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue - Paschal Byrne and Ben Wiseman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry..

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"...Delicate, Tranquil and Tender..."

The first two STRAWBS albums - the self-titled "Strawbs" debut in June 1969 and its more accomplished follow up - February 1970's "Dragonfly" highlighted a band very much on the up - growing in stature with each rapid release - receiving critical acclaim and a fattening fan base - but still finding chart action elusive.

As a rarities buyer in Reckless (London) for nearly 20 years - I can count on one hand the number of times I saw Tan A&M label UK originals of either vinyl LP. Both are forgotten gems filled with music that's daring and reaching. So it's with some pleasure that I come to this superb 2008 CD Remaster - expanding the original 9-track LP with 4 Bonus Tracks. Here are the Visionary Ladies in the Lake...

UK released August 2008 - "Dragonfly" by STRAWBS on A&M Records/UMC 5302680 (Barcode 600753026809) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Four Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (49:29 minutes):

1. The Weary Song
2. Dragonfly
3. I Turned My Face To The Wind
4. Josephine, For Better Or Worse
5. Another Day
6. Til The Sun Comes Shining Through [Side 2]
7. Young Again
8. The Vision Of The Lady In The Lake
9. Close Your Eyes
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 2nd studio album "Dragonfly" - released February 1970 in the UK on A&M Records AMLS 970 (no USA release). Produced by TONY VISCONTI - it failed to chart in the UK. All tracks written by Dave Cousins except "Young Again" by Tony Hooper.

10. We'll Meet Again Sometime [Recorded at Trident Studios, London in June 1969]
11. Forever [Non-Album Track, A-side to a UK 7" single on A&M AMS 791 - released July 1970 with the LP cut "Another Day" as the B-side]
12. Another Day
13. We'll Meet Again Someday [Tracks 12 and 13 recorded for the BBC's John Peel 'Top Gear' Radio Show on 7 September 1969]

DAVE COUSINS - Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Dulcimer, 'Chinese Piano' and Percussion
TONY HOOPER - Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Tambourine and Percussion

TONY VISCONTI - Recorder on "Dragonfly" and "Young Again"
RICK WAKEMAN – Piano, PAUL BRETT - Lead Guitar and BJARNE ROSTVOLD - Drums - all on "The Vision Of The Lady In The Lake"

The 16-page booklet is a lovely thing to behold and pleasingly in-depth and a nice touch is the Tan Label for the CD aping the original English LP rarity. MARK POWELL of the quality reissue label Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red UK) provides the superb new liner notes chronicling the band's history from 1968/1969 darlings of Progressive Folk with Sandy Denny before she jumped ship for Fairport Convention to the re-jiggered Strawbs on the cusp of 'a new musical rebirth' with 1971's "From The Witchwood". The rare lyric insert that came with original 1970 British LPs has its words reproduced on Pages 8 to 14 - there's a photo of the stand-alone British 45 for "Forever" (a session outtake released one week after the new line-up had recorded the 11 July 1970 Queen Elizabeth Hall gig that would become the live LP "Just Another Collection Of Antiques And Curios") as well as repro of a rare A&M Records trade advert trying to drum up interest in their 'new one'. The beautiful 'Dragonfly' painting/logo done by Roger Saunders that so elevated the artwork of the original LP crops up throughout the text - as do black and whites of Dave Cousins - all neatly wrapped up with the usual re-issue credits.

PASCHAL BYRNE and BEN WISEMAN (of Audio Archiving) did the Remaster and these hugely experienced Audio Engineers have pulled off a winner. Those slightly Psych-sounding keyboards of Rick Wakeman (before he joined the ranks of Yes and helped out David Bowie sessions in 1971) have amazing clarity on the epic 10-minute "The Vision Of The Lady In The Lake". And that loose English Folk Band 'live in the studio' feel to the Danish sessions (recorded in Copenhagen) is captured so well on tracks like "I Turn My Face To The Wall" and the gorgeous opener "The Weary Song" – Chesterman's Double Bass and Claire Deniz's Cello leaping out the speakers in all the right ways.

Musically I'm reminded of The Incredible String Band experimenting with and bending the barriers of Rock with string instruments and wondering why this superb album didn’t make The Strawbs huge. The musical lushness of "The Weary Song" and the Dulcimer beauty of "Dragonfly" that soon expands into an Acid-Folk dream are both utterly brilliant – the remaster beautifully accenting those heavily drawn string notes and percussive bell tinkles – our Dave lying awake at night waiting for those North winds to blow. The piano/string combo of "I Turned My Face To The Wind" has traces of The Moody Blues and Procol Harum in its melody and slightly sad 'mist rolled down the countryside' lyrics. And even though it's a mere 2:36 minutes long - "I Turned My Face To The Wind" manages to feel more epic than its playing time. Back to the sublime with one of Cousins' loveliest airs – the nuptials/betrothing ballad "Josephine, For Better Or Worse". The Remaster on this track is astounding – as clear as I've ever heard this song. Side A ends with "Another Day" where its jolly upbeat nature makes it the most poppy of tracks on a Folk-Rock LP - like they were aiming for a single.

Side 2 gives us the first trace of hiss with "'Til The Sun Comes Shining Through" - a split-vocal peach that floats like Nick Drake or John Martyn over on Island Records. It's hugely romantic 'my love a primrose fair' lyrics are complimented by sweet acoustic guitars and that soaring cello - Visconti making certain to accentuate the lot. "...Laughing as they run..." go the words to "Young Again" - a gorgeous Tony Hooper song that sounds like its sentiments - where simple pleasures make you and I "...young again...". The lyrics to the mammoth "The Vision Of The Lady In The Lake" take up two pages – but if I'm completely honest I've always found the noises in the background as the verses pass more intrusive than complimentary – and that drums/guitar break about six minutes in kills it for me. Others of course will view it as Prog Folk/Acid Folk at its expressive wild best (one man's poison etc). By way of melodic compensation for the indulgence that just went before – we get the 49-second "Close Your Eyes" ditty that ends Side 2 – leaving the listener panting for more (of the same).

All four of the Bonus Tracks have much to recommend – the Lindisfarne bop of the outtake "We'll Meet Again Sometime" would have been a very cool signal with its 'look upon your loveliness' vibe. An acoustic guitar opening quickly followed by Bowie Cello notes introduces the stand-alone British 45 "Forever" - a good song that is perhaps too overly busy for its own good – and stylistically too similar to The Moody Blues. But I must admit it's an amazing piece of well-produced melodrama and a huge fan rarity finally on CD. The two BBC Sessions are pleasingly well recorded – those duet vocals very clear as are the strings and acoustic guitars. But for me it's the version of "We’ll Meet Again Sometime" that feels special – stripped of that over-production – it makes you concentrate on The Hollies vocals and the 'my love reflected in your eyes' the-boy's-in-love lyrics. Very nice...

London's Psych-Folk-Rockers would have to wait until John Ford and Richard Hudson joined the line-up in June 1970 and recorded what would be November 1970's live album "Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios" to chart in Blighty - a modest No. 27 - but a start nonetheless. July 1971 would give us "From The Witchwood" and February 1972 the breakthrough album "Grave New World" which finally saw them go Top 20 peaking at an impressive No. 11 (see separate review).

Overlooked – unfairly forgotten – a bit of a friggin' masterpiece frankly – The Strawbs' second album "Dragonfly" is all of these things. And how good is it to hear this amazing CD Remaster do that flirting moment of musical brilliance a proper solid. Big respect to all involved...

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