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(2021 - Cherry Red Records/Esoteric Antenna - EU)

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A rich and fully engaged recording that brings together early and late Strawbs sound into a beautiful mixture for both fans and newcomers. Dave Cousins (the warhorse that has been there from the beginning) is still as strong now as he was 50 years ago, and continues to give the band their one of a kind touch. The opening track holds nothing back with a statement for all times. 'Strange Times' (track #2) hands the listener one of those sad and touching ballads, perfectly fitting, lifted by Cousin's vocals, alternatively decorated by acoustic fingerpicked guitar, occasional swells of strings, and melancholy for the good heart.

The band has it all lined up right with a balance of the slow and sombre, with the upbeat but yet still softly projected tune. With 9 main songs (the album only has those 9 songs) the CD adds 3 bonus cuts that are really added songs, not remixes or live versions, and very well worth the purchase. There is always something to be said about owning the physical format and in this instance, Strawbs promote the compact disc with a prized set of extra songs. Cherish that!  The combination of the old and new is supported by early Strawbs memberJohn Ford (of Hudson-Ford fame), Blue Weaver who returned to produce and master this album, and a sincere dedication to another early member and founder, Tony Hooper who left after 'Grave New World' (1972), and sadly died in late 2020. The rest of the members are the same lineup as was on 'The Ferryman’s Curse' (the album Strawbs released in 2017) and was the last one since this new 2021 'Settlement' recording. In review, the performing musicians are Dave Cousins ( Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Electric Dulcimer), Dave Lambert (Vocals, Lead & Acoustic Guitars), Dave Bainbridge (Keyboards, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Hammond Organ), Chas Cronk (Vocals, Bass, 12-string Guitars), Tony Fernandez (Drums, Percussion), along wit guests John Ford (Bass), Cathryn Craig (Vocals), and Schalk Joubert (Bass).  

So how does this band keep putting out both relative and consistently fine music over a 50 year period?  It is a pure merger of skill, will, and creative energy that has not burned out or faded over the decades. Any fan can attest to that. With stunners like 'We Are Everyone' (track #8) a person could walk away happy with this alone. Fact is, each work has merit and will impose itself for repeat listens, endless hours of pleasure, and satisfaction that a classic band (however one wants to classify them: Folk Rock, Progressive Rock, etc) still puts out music as virile as ever. And that song is followed by another linked epic with church organ instrumental called 'Chorale'. Those bonus tracks fit as if they were customized to be there in that order ('Champion Jack', which could be from 'Grave New World' and at end has a ferocious mellotron choral powerhouse to knock your socks off - yes THAT great). A brief Latin infused ditty ('Better Days') follows for a nice sunny recess from the dramatic gorgeousness. But then 'Liberty' comes back with a sweet force, however a bit on the pop side but with hope in its tone. An end song fit for any masterpiece. Touching and full, this album keeps the flame burning bright that Strawbs are always known for. If there is a shortage of material, this does not reflect it. It does boggle the mind how they keep up the quality and drive, but this is proof in all it's glory. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

  ©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 4 - 22 - 2021

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