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Strawbs - Nomadness CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

2.54 | 73 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
2 stars The advent of disco and, to a much greater extent, punk, blindsided most art rock groups around the middle of the 1970s. Dinosaurs can't turn on a dime, so they either go extinct or otherwise become irrelevant. Strawbs were one of the first casualties of the new regime, ironically since they actually attempted to change with the times sooner than most of their ilk. It was a good idea but the execution was poor. The collapse between "Ghosts" and "Nomadness" stands as one of the most sudden in prog history, with mere months between them. Looking at the sad and incredibly thin picture of Dave Cousins on the ill-conceived prophetic cover, it's hard to believe he survived, let alone as the revitalized leader of the group in 2009.

So the idea behind "Nomadness" was to utilize the departure of John Hawken, the master of keyboard textures, as motivation to strip down the group's sound. No mellotron was employed in the studio, and most of the songs are spare in arrangements, with several being largely acoustic. On paper this sounds brilliant, but the group forgot to bring their typical top notch material to the table, collate it wisely, and play to their own strengths. The result is a collection of mostly good but brief songs with almost a complete lack of adventurousness, that sound worse as a unit than they would have dispersed on better releases. Moreover, nothing even suggests hit single, which had to be what the band was hoping for at this point. If you are going to go this route, you had better keep either artistic integrity or go platinum, and "Nomadness" was a failure in both arenas.

All that said, and allowing for the abominations that are the tepid rocker "Little Sleepy" and the beyond silly "Tokyo Rosie", there is a lot to like here. "Golden Salamander" effectively dusts off the dulcimer and benefits from multi tracked vocals that approximate the mellotron. "Back on the Farm" recalls the group's bluegrass roots but suffers from over-levity on an album that is already insufficiently weighty. This contrasts to the suitable placement of "Ah Me Ah My" on the downbeat "Grave New World" album. "So Shall our love Die" is an entirely acoustic and sad love song with sumptuous 12 string guitars and a simple piano lead. "Mind of My Own" was a Coombes composition sung by Lambert and is also mostly acoustic but on the bluesy side. It has worn well. The album closes with the acoustic guitar driven "Hanging in the Gallery", probably the most enduring cut thanks to excellent lyrics of reflection on the artist and his plight, and the heavy rocker "The Promised Land" which was penned by Cronk and highlighted by combined vocal work by Cousins and Lambert. Even if the melody is reminiscent of the verses of "Aqualung", it's a fine cut and should have been more developed.

The bonus tracks feature "Still Small Voice", with a classical guitar introduction followed by a plodding prog verse with Cousins' best Benedictus-style vocals before ending as it began, too soon. "Good to See the Sun" is emblematic of the band's lack of enthusiasm at this point in time, even as it is suggestive of the much earlier period of the group. Pretty but oh so dull.

Given the high standard set by the 4 symphonically enhanced previous albums, "Nomadness" can only be conceived as a monumental miscalculation, wandering as it does from one half baked idea to another. 2.5 stars rounded down.

kenethlevine | 2/5 |


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