Review Summary: Rick Wakeman's last appearance in The Strawbs resulted in one of their best albums. Prog tinged folk with a melancholy heart.
The Strawbs were a progressive folk band who had a brief flirtation with success in the early 70's due to some minor hit singles in the UK. They were definitely more of an acoustic folk outfit in their earlier days but by the time 'From the Witchwood' was released in 1971 their music had started moving towards prog folk. Rick Wakeman had been a member of The Stawbs since their debut release but this was his last appearance with the band before he joined Yes.
Those expecting a Rick Wakeman showcase should look elsewhere. For the most part this is acoustic based folk music with a progressive edge. The keyboards are relatively subdued in the Strawbs' music and although Rick gets a chance to show his chops on some songs, such as the excellent 'The Hangman and the Papist', his role on here is mostly one of providing keyboard textures to add flavour to the largely acoustic based music. The Strawbs up to this point weren't particularly known for rocking out but there are a few occasions where they forgoe their trademark gentle acoustic sound to provide slightly more urgency in their music. This is demonstrated in 'Sheep', an acidic psych-folk number, where they let go of their natural restraint and also let Wakeman off the leash to provide some of his trademark flourishes on the keys. The main draw of the music on here though are the great folk melodies. The title track has a traditional folk atmosphere and a beautiful banjo-lute backed verse provoking images of pastoral medieval England. Actually there is a medieval feel to quite a lot of the music on this album with plenty of saturnine minor modes and a sparse, plaintive vocal style. The ballad 'I'll Carry On Beside You' is somewhat more cheerful than most of what the album has to offer and takes the form of an ale-house folk song with a sing-a-long chorus and simple guitar solo.
The band inject a different feel into their sound on 'The Shepherd's Song' which almost has a meditteranean flavour to it at times. The wistful 'In Amongst the Roses' is a mournful ode to the passage of the years with beautiful double-tracked acoustic guitars and a tasteful contribution from Wakeman on the harpsichord. This is a very consistent album and contains virtually nothing in the way of filler or any of the trite escapades into folk rock commercialism which sometimes marred The Strawbs' later releases.
This album marked The Strawbs' transition from an acoustic folk band into a prog folk band and paved the way for the commercial successes of their later works. If you enjoy Steeleye Span and Jethro Tull there is a good chance you will take to this album and indeed the bulk of their other work. Highly recommended to any prog folk fans or Wakeman completists.