Recommended Albums #38


Strawbs: Bursting at the Seams (1973)

I’ll turn this one over to an customer review who identifies himself as Lucius, with whose appraisal of Strawbs, one of my favorite three artists of all time, I heartily concur:

“…Strawbs are the best unknown “English Progressive” band of the seventies (aka, the Strawberry Hill Boys in the 1960’s). Of course, Strawbs never stood a chance, even in the wake of “progressive” bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, and Yes (each of whom The New York Times despised back in the early ’70’s).

Because rock critcs took as a given self-evident gospel truth that the wellspring of Rock and Roll was the Blues, choirboy music never stood a chance in America. And so Dave Cousins, folkie choirboy lover of orchestral rock and instrumental virtuosity, was just rendered irrelevant for one reason or another – too “intense”, too “conceptual”, too British? Too good, I’d say.

The only song of the Strawbs I remember on the radio was “Lay Down”, which hooked me; it was the best song being aired at the time (though I suspect I heard “Part of the Union” at some point prior to that). But with Disco and the Eagles and the New Wave/Punk thing just around the corner, where were the Strawbs going to find a place? Alas.

And just as Ian Anderson has been making incredible music for 30 plus years without a word of mainstream “critical” praise, just so Dave Cousins is anonymous here in the USofA. Go figure.”

By Lucius


Any analysis of this band I attempt is bound to end in unabashed fanspeak; so it is with the things I love too much…

Bursting At The Seams is the ideal place to start in getting your ears around the Strawbs catalog. The fourth of their seven-LP output while on the A&M label, it marks a transitional period between the more pastoral/acoustic earlier work and the “proggier”, more electric later output.

strawbs 1

But despite being plagued with the lineup changes that caused the stylistic musical shifts, Strawbs weren’t in the business of mediocrity and Bursting At The Seams is no mere “transitional album” in their catalog. Rather it is a high-water mark, along with Grave New World which preceded it and Hero And Heroine which followed–their period of greatest musical fertility and lyrical depth. New members Lambert, Hudson and Ford brought along material strong enough to stand beside–and even complement–the work of one of the most gifted writers in all of rock, David Cousins, himself at the peak of his powers. No one in all of British folk/rock or prog rock or whatever genre you place this genre-defying band had a greater gift for placing the introspective alongside the anthemic, the mystical in the company of the visceral. For a few years during this period, Strawbs (not THE Strawbs, as they are frequently misnamed) made music of a quality rarely seen before or since–a music that didn’t sacrifice beauty for power, or power for beauty.

lay down

Many, many times in the years when I was discovering this music I imagined I felt the same thing Dave Cousins experienced when he wrote the song “Stormy Down” (which appears on this album). He was “high on Stormy Down thinking of my friends below…but they had gone some other way, they did not want to know…” It would have been utterly futile explaining to my 14-year-old peers the unique beauty I found in this music. Even friends who were into progressive rock seldom scaled ecstatic heights such as these. For me it was–and is–to quote Cousins again, “a glimpse of heaven”. My friends at the time, for whom musical quality was measured quantitatively (by the number of decibels) had “gone some other way”.

But speaking for those of us who DID “want to know”, I’m thankful someone was true enough to himself to write music about the interior life, for those of us just uncool enough in our youth to care about such things. Thank goodness for songwriters like Mr. Cousins whose songs were built of such solid stuff that to this day and even in all-acoustic settings (as most Strawbs concerts now are) they bring more force and meaning to bear than so many artists of wider acclaim. And thank heavens for songwriters, Cousins being a prime example, who show us rock can be so much greater and more than butt-shaking, ear-shattering party soundtrack music.

See also:

See also:


Don’t miss: “Lay Down”


Listen to: “Tears and Pavan”


Listen to: “Stormy Down”


Listen to: “The Winter and the Summer”


Listen to: “Down by the Sea”

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rose
    May 06, 2013 @ 07:47:40

    Well delivered. Your blog warns of your personal fanaticism prior to delving into a rant of praise that, I agree, is more than deserved, just from what I’ve heard so far from Strawbs. Your blog is a good balance of subjective, covering how you feel about the music and how strongly it has effected and even isolated you; to the objective, giving supportive factual incite into the band and its forming.

    Prefacing your blog with another’s was unnecessary as your words need no stronger evidence than the music that they are in referral to. The sample provided confirms your strongly stated sentiments. The other blogger is just a confirmation that there are others who understand the extent to which Strawbs have been under appreciated by the masses. Lucius is a kindred spirit.


    • Ed Cyphers
      May 06, 2013 @ 08:44:56

      Thanks for the thumbs up! You’re right–it is in a sense isolating to be unable to share the love of a favorite band when they mean so much. I’ve never considered that a love of music can either serve to bring people together or have this isolating effect. It’s been reassuring to see Strawbs live and in the company of other fanatics. It’s always a good feeling to come across another member of your tribe. Thanks for listening!


  2. Trackback: Songs You May Have Missed #481 | Ed Cyphers

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