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Strawbs - Bursting At The Seams (1973, re-issued with bonus tracks, 1998)
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From the gentle plucked harmonics that open the album, to the fading notes of what sounds like a school assembly hall piano, this is an album of contrasts. Light and dark, soft and loud, slow and fast, epic and throw-away….OK you get the picture! This album is "bursting at the seams" with ideas and creativity. Is this album "Folk" or "Rock" or "Progressive" or "Pop" or…? The answer is very simply: "yes". It is all of these, and more. One thing is for sure, this album is a classic and holds its own against the other great classic rock albums of the 70s.

I first heard "Lay Down" on South African radio in 1973. This was my introduction to the incredible sound of Strawbs. "Lady Fuschia" also received radio-play, and I remember thinking: "what a contrast!"

The album opens with "Flying". A melodic, gentle and tuneful song with superb instrumentation and great vocals on the chorus.

"Lady Fuschia" is next up. A soft love song with gently strummed acoustic guitars. Almost a Moody Blues-type sound. The sitar in the background adds an interesting dimension and new boy Dave Lambert's lead guitar is very tasteful.

The dark lyrics of "Stormy Down" are contrasted by the bouncy piano. This is one of my all-time favourite Strawbs songs. Wonderful vocal harmonies and an almost country-rock style guitar.

"The River" is another powerful track. Slow, haunting, poetic lyrics and great imagery.

"Down By The Sea" is an epic. This strong, powerful song is contrasted by a gentle acoustic guitar and a tuneful bass-line. The tempo changes and a heavy electric guitar comes in. This track would not be out of place on an early Traffic album. Great coda with brass and strings and thundering drums.

Time for some light-hearted tongue-in-cheek humour with "Part Of The Union". A call-to-arms that some took seriously. A Hudson-Ford song that reached number 2 on the UK charts in 1973. Tub-thumping drums, sing-a-long chorus and a honky tonk pub piano solo make this a great song.

"Tears And Pavan" is another strong song. Similar to "Down By The Sea" in its slow, epic style. "Pavan" has wonderful harpsichord, guitar and handclaps. Sounds like its straight from a medieval court. I can just imagine the dancing jesters and smiling jugglers entertaining the royal guests.

"The Winter And The Summer" is a wonderful folk song. The title is a constrast in itself. A quiet, gentle, melodic acoustic guitar gets slightly heavier about half-way through.

"Lay Down", another UK hit (#12). Brilliant lead guitar heralds this classic song. Powerful drumming, melodic bass-line and great vocals - a rock classic…absolutely! The quasi-religious lyrics based on the 23rd Psalm and the catchy chorus make this a stand-out track. Short, but very sweet guitar solo.

"Thank You". A group of school children are roped in to finish the album. Light-hearted piano takes this album to a quiet fade.

So, an album of contrasts…a fantastic slice of folk-rock at its best. A classic.

Brian Currin, January 1999

1998 CD re-issue bonus tracks - reviewed by Dick Greener from the Strawbs Web
"Will You Go" (thought by the Strawbs to be a traditional folk song, but in fact written by Francis McPeake of that well-known folk singing family), was one of my first Strawbs tracks. Backing up "Part Of The Union", it was a real contrast to the tub-thumping rhythm of the A-side. I learnt all the words and sang along - plenty of room in the harmonies for a few more - and I probably played it just as much. I thought - wow, they can do rock, folk, what else can they do - I soon found out.

They apparently used to play it on stage as an encore, with Blue coming out from behind the mellotrons etc. to play the accordian up front with Dave Cousins. Great to see it on CD. Even greateer to hear it resurrected as the closer at Chiswick - where's the accordian, Blue ? - and let's hope they keep it in the set for May.

"Backside" - an oddity this one. A gentle jibe at David Bowie's androgynous Ziggy Stardust persona, which was all the rage at the time, put out on the "backside" (appropriately enough) of "Lay Down". If the vocals were mixed up a bit we could hear the words, but then I suppose the libel lawyers were ain the control room ....

"Lay Down" single version - Nice to have it on CD at last (UK Halcyon Days mistakenly included the album version even though the single version was supposed to be there). Not a great deal of difference - the album version has more choruses and the guitar solo has a spot of its own instead of having a chorus running over it - but if like me, it was your introduction to the Strawbs, it take you back. It was performed twice on Top of the Pops (I saw one of the videos the other day) and catapulted the band to later chart topping success with "Part Of The Union".


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