Friday, October 30, 2009

Hero And Heroine

The Strawbs/1974

Back in the 1960s, English folk music was a little different than its American counterpart across the big pond. While American folksters like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary were singing about war, racism, poverty and what they’d do if they had a hammer, English folkies like The Strawberry Hill Boys were prancing around the countryside, innocently picking and fiddling like merry troubadours of old. Whereas the Yanks were firmly connected to the social consciousness of the era, the Limeys harkened back to a grand folk tradition that spanned thousands of years…when village pickers and fiddlers got the party started way back in King Arthur’s court. Fast forward to the late ‘60s. Swingin’ London. The Beatles. Suddenly, all things British are igniting the rock ‘n roll revolution. Chief Strawberry picker Dave Cousins figures it’s time to dump the folk scene, plug in the amps, strap on electric guitars and boogie down – even shortening the band’s name to The Strawbs. Several lineups and albums later, we join them in early 1974 with Hero And Heroine. Now they’re firmly equipped to rock progressively, with ace electric guitarist Dave Lambert (a hot guitarist being the one important missing piece in previous lineups) and keyboardist John Hawken, dragging along the essential prog arsenal of mellotron, synthesizer, electric piano and Hammond organ. With Cousin’s woodsy, well-worn lead vocals (somewhat similar to Dylan’s crooner-antichrist voice) leading the charge, the band launched into extended, multi-section pieces (“Autumn”), straight-ahead rockers (“Just Love”), and Moody Blues-like orchestral pop (“Shine On Silver Sun”). The album was a hit with American FM radio, helping The Strawbs reach a wider audience at the height of the first Progressive Rock Era…when the mere sound of a mellotron would elicit glassy-eyed worship from American fans seeking enlightenment and high art from rock music. Was Hero And Heroine high art? That’s a discussion for another day. It was, however, one of The Strawbs’ strongest albums. Considered by many as their best lineup, these wandering minstrels soon lost an integral part of their sound with John Hawken’s exit. By the late ‘70s, after five more moderately successful releases, Cousins decided to put The Strawbs on hold. Fast forward to the 21st Century: This lineup, however older and grayer, attempted to recapture the magic on several recent independent CD releases. A heroic undertaking, indeed.

Essential tracks: “Autumn” “Shine On Silver Sun” “Hero And Heroine” “Lay A Little Light On Me”

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