Chas Cronk is probably best known as Mr Bass Man with folk-rockers The Strawbs, a spot he previously occupied throughout the seventies and again from 2004 up to the present day. In between he played with a number of stellar musicians, notably Steve Hackett and Rick Wakeman, and appeared on Wakeman’s Six Wives of Henry V111. He cut his first solo album, Mystic Mountain Music in 2002 and is now releasing his sophomore solo album Liberty, a mere twenty years later. Originally conceived as an EP after Cronk had uploaded a new song to Facebook and received several thousand hits in a short time, Liberty was gradually expanded into a full album after Renaissance Records offered him the chance to make a full album, which was done during lockdown as the Strawbs were inactive.
The message running through the album is one of hope. As Cronk says, ‘I set out to create a collection of songs with a positive message to help get us through this bleak time.’ He’s certainly done this. Liberty is a gorgeous collection of relatively short tunes, all of which have uplifting messages. They’re all written and produced by Chas Cronk, well performed, communicated with feeling and features Cronk playing practically all instruments, though he does have very able assistance on guitar from fellow Strawb members Dave Lambert and Dave Bainbridge on a couple of tracks. It’s an uplifting piece of work which grows on the listener and bears out repeated listening.
Opening track Liberty sets the scene, showing straight away this is different from what he does in his day job, with a piece reminiscent of Nick Beggs’ sometime band, The Mute Gods. Take My Hand and Away could both be from a 1980s synth band, with each track featuring good guitar work over a synth backing. The gorgeous Everybody Knows, with its message of ‘everybody knows, in the darkest times, there’s a light’, is one of the standout tracks on the album, a track reprised from The Strawbs album The Broken Hearted Bride. A Splash Of Blue is a reworking of a track Cronk had originally put on his 2007 album with Dave Lambert, Touch The Earth, with Lambert once again contributing some fine guitar work. Similarly, Slipping Downstream sees fellow Strawb Dave Bainbridge providing some quite delicately beautiful guitar touches throughout on what is another standout track. (If Lambert and Bainbridge ever got together with a good keyboard player and drummer, there’d be a damn good album in there somewhere). There are also two short instrumentals, the mainly acoustic folky Flying Free, and the atmospheric Reverie, with its dreamy outro and what appears to be someone singing ‘Kyrie.’
Liberty is the kind of album which might well appeal to fans of artists like Steve Hackett, as the music is thoughtful, gentle and melodic, along the lines of Hackett’s two last studio albums, and it also hints at prog in places. But, overall, it’s an album making one wonder why, if Chas Cronk can come up with albums like this, why did he wait twenty years to release a second solo album, and why is he just in the back row playing bass when he has more to his skill set than just this?