Esoteric Antenna 2017
While resolution holds: adversity-defying triumph from English root-rock wanderers.
It’s been 47 years since STRAWBS presented the world with an epic “Vision Of The Lady Of The Lake” which shone like a gem on their “Dragonfly” despite its many verses. Dave Cousins held this composition in high esteem, as the band’s fans did; that’s possibly why it took the veteran so long to come up with a sequel and make the piece a title track of a new platter – quite possibly, though hopefully not, their last. This ensemble have always sounded like elder statesmen, even when they donned sequinned garb trying to wrap wisdom into entertainment, so there’s little surpise at the gravely tones of “The Ferryman’s Curse” where sociopolitical commentary of the “Grave New World” sort is replaced for the most part with timeless moral dilemmas, but the Biblical slant of the album is impossible to ignore.
Going beyond introductory instrumental “In The Beginning” whose orchestral elegy feels foreboding, if uplifting, before “The Nails From The Hands Of Christ” dryly and bitterly takes a funky swing at faith, and “The Ten Commandments” whose punch is directed at consumerist society, the group present a deceptively gloomy mindset; there’s rarely a passionate vocal on display, that’s why these numbers hit so hard in their common-knowledge truths. They’re emotional, though, Tony Fernandez’s fluttering drums driving the Mediterranean vista of “Bats And Swallows” to the point of bliss, and the victorious “We Have The Power” sealing the collective’s status as an ever-creative force – the stance darkened by producer Chris Tsangarides’ passing soon after the record’s release.
“The Song Of Infinite Sadness” could be what its title suggests, had the ballad’s ravel of acoustic strum and synthesizer’s ebb not connected its spindle to cosmic spirituality, whence the subsequent themes flow to add silver lining to the deadpan stanzas in “The Familiarity Of Old Lovers” when Dave Lambert’s six strings head for the clouds – soaring, in a series of short solos, higher and higher – and to the baroque solemnity of “When The Spirit Moves” which informs simple lyrical optimism with chorale-like gravity, albeit the listener may suspect irony in the piece’s Scripture references. It all will ebb away once Dave Bainbridge’s piano has rippled through “The Reckoning” to lead into the second encounter between The Boatman and The Ferryman – one with a happy end yet not without an organ-raged drama that Chas Cronk’s heavy bass helps anchor to eternity.
This is where the veterans belong now: STRAWBS may be playing a venue near you, but they’re long past old rockers’ curse. The album worth the wait, their latter-day reconnection to the fount of youth is truly glorious.