Strawbs
Grave New World


4.5
superb

Review

by ProgJect USER (31 Reviews)
December 15th, 2010 | 62 replies


Release Date: 1972 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Grave New World is a perfect mix of Strawbs' folk-based heritage with their growing interest in the progressive rock world.

Strawbs initially had a sound that was pretty well-established in the British folk rock scene, and were one of the few bands to ride successfully from folk onto the coat tails of progressive rock. While their lineup has constantly changed, their sound has been in a constant evolution, thanks to mastermind Dave Cousins, who is the driving force, the main songwriter and the only constant member since their formation. The group’s two first efforts were acoustic, folk-based albums that already contained signs of things to come in both the lengthy epics The Battle and The Vision of the Lady of the Lake, the latter which featured a contribution on keyboards from a certain young session player named Rick Wakeman.

While the band were still very much in search of their identity, Cousins recruited Wakeman full-time. The keyboardist only appeared on both their famous live recording at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Just a Collection of Antique and Curios, and From the Witchwood, the former showing Wakeman ‘the wizard’ literally taking the floor in one of the band’s most highlighted performances. Cousins’ lead vocals and lyrics were, as per usual deeply moving, soothing, and often dark and haunting. Bassist John Ford shined with his unusual percussive style of playing. Wakeman however outshone his co-players, and the prodigious wizard's skills on the piano were immediately and unanimously recognized by critics: Rick Wakeman was tomorrow’s superstar. From the Witchwood represents the transitional phase and search for Strawbs’ definitive sound and style.

Despite his short tenure within Strawbs, the addition of Wakeman brought a change that was to have a profound effect on the development of the band, that was about to shift towards the prog rock scene, causing the first major and logical change in the personnel. In effect, Grave New World was the last release to feature former guitarist Tony Hooper, drummer Richard Hudson and bassist John Ford, who weren't interested in abandoning their folk roots, developing more and more opposite interests with Cousins. Leaving Strawbs to join Yes, Rick Wakeman was replaced by Blue Weaver (future Bee Gees) who joined the fold prior to the release of their masterwork. This album is an innovative concept, describing a journey of a man's life from birth to death, and the hardships in between. The record really proposes an unbroken song sequence, in which no part can be omitted without devaluing the overall work. It contains plenty of heartfelt acoustic parts and lush keyboards, passionate and reflective lyrics, quality vocal harmonies between Cousins and Hooper, and a fiery rhythm section. It was the band’s first symphonic progressive album, and marked the beginning of their golden era, which includes its three followers Bursting at the Seams, Hero & Heroine and Ghosts.

The new keyboardist had just stepped into Wakeman's shoes and was being asked to play keyboards like his life depended on it, which he did. The album is filled with great songwriting, reflective lyrics, symphonic arrangements and superb performances throughout. The overall sound of is dark, and features plenty of brooding mellotron parts and a few delicate folk-flavoured acoustic pieces. From the opening chords, you know you’re in for something tremendous. A demonstration of their progressive rock orientation over their folk rock roots are comes straight away with the hymnal opener Benedictus, which sets the tone for the whole thing, with its devoted and contemplative sound.

Queen of Dreams is rather a compromise between prog and folk, with its sweet melody and vocal harmonies. It has an experimental nature, with a backward taped intro, an interesting psychedelical touch, and once again, fantastic mellotron runs. Heavy Disguise is another classic progressive piece, a la Jethro Tull. Sung by bassist John Ford, it's filled with great acoustic guitar and a lush orchestral interlude filled with brass. The centrepiece of the album, New World, is a powerful, mellotron-driven song that is an overwhelming musical experience, and is, like Benedictus, a classic of their new orientation. The Flower and the Young Man is a symphonic ballad, a delicate piece of vocal harmony and organ contrasted with a robust rhythm section. Next to it stands one of the heaviest Strawbs tracks, Tomorrow. It has harsh and bitter lyrics and was allegedly written about Wakeman’s departure (a reference for this is also found in Benedictus’ lyrics). It has a much more progressive structure, complete with a long instrumental closing section, and the organ sound is close to that of more conventional bands of the era, such as Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.

Grave New World is a mix of fragile beauty and powerful pomposity. It demonstrates that the blend of the band’s folk roots with the instrumentation of progressive rock actually could be moulded together with great results. The album marked the beginning of an amazing run of four fantastic prog folk album for Strawbs, still containing elements of both, but always with an uncanny melodic sense, and an awareness and appreciation for darkness and light, the tragic and the celebratory being merely alternate and necessary components of the whole.



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user ratings (31)
Chart.
4.1
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
ProgJect
December 15th 2010


37 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

ProgJect: keeping things prog.

EVedder27
December 15th 2010


6088 Comments


Nice, this sounds pretty cool

AngelofDeath
Staff Reviewer
December 15th 2010


16137 Comments


Swell review gentlemen. Need to hear this still. Got Hero and Heroine on vinyl this weekend. That was pretty exciting.

Nagrarok
December 15th 2010


8316 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thank you, our loyal readers.

BigHans
December 15th 2010


26454 Comments


Is this just new Nag or you and Jethro together?

Jethro42
December 15th 2010


12627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I like how my reviews turn to gold with your personal touch, Nag, cher collègue. Thank you so much!
@Vedder and Angel, much appreciated! Please enjoy these cuts:

Benedictus
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMwA9R5ywHs

New World
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhEwjCoGru8

Band/album rules.

Nagrarok
December 15th 2010


8316 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Is this just new Nag or you and Jethro together?


ProgJect reviews are always written by us both.

Jethro42
December 15th 2010


12627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

@ Hans: I'm the main writer but Nag is doing more than correcting my broken English here and there: He manages to trim and enhance it beautifully.

greg84
Staff Reviewer
December 15th 2010


7464 Comments


Another classic prog album I haven't heard anything about. Great review!

Jethro42
December 15th 2010


12627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks Greg, buddy. If you like Jethro Tull, you need to like Strawbs. Get Hero and Heroine first, it Rocks hard.

vanderb0b
December 15th 2010


3473 Comments


Awesome review, I need this album.

Jethro42
December 15th 2010


12627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thank's a bunch bro. Yes indeed, you do need to relish some Strawbs!

Irving
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


7321 Comments


Fantastic review. Nag and Jethro, you guys make a superb team. I am very impressed by how thorough this was.

Have a pos (although I feel like you folks really merit two votes LOL).

ProgJect
December 16th 2010


37 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thank you for your double vote =P and your kind words Irving! Yes I'm grateful to team up with Nag. Both our musical affinities and common passion ensure the quality and as far as possible the continuity of ProgJect wich is the proggiest thing on Sputnik. Cheers!


Jethro42
December 16th 2010


12627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

^woops ProgJect have spoken through me haha. I forgot that I was under the ProgJect account, so yes.

JamieTwort
Contributing Reviewer
September 7th 2011


21600 Comments


I need to get this. Hero and Heroine is brilliant.

Digging: Foxes in Fiction - Ontario Gothic

Jethro42
September 7th 2011


12627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Damn right, dude. Both are my favorite albums by them. But there's still more to savor here or there in any other albums. I think I'm soon gonna do a list about my best Strawbs selections.

JamieTwort
Contributing Reviewer
September 7th 2011


21600 Comments


I'll be looking forward to that list.

Jethro42
January 13th 2012


12627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Band is to proggy for sputnik.

JamieTwort
Contributing Reviewer
January 13th 2012


21600 Comments


Indeed P/



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