a mix of more commercial, easily melodic material alongside harder-edged fare for those who didn’t want too much sugar with their Strawbs!
By 1976, when Deep Cuts originally appeared, The Strawbs were getting to the end of their original 1970s run, and would split following two more albums, in 1978. The previous album, 1975’s Nomadness, had already been criticised in some quarters as being less progressive, or ‘epic’, in feel, as it contained shorter tracks throughout. Deep Cuts continued this trend, albeit presenting a mix of more commercial, easily melodic material alongside harder-edged fare for those who didn’t want too much sugar with their Strawbs!
The opening track, I Only Want My Love To Grow In You, typifies the lighter side of the album, yet it is a gorgeous composition and an exceptional album opener. The plangent guitar lines mesh with the yearning yet uplifting chorus to create a song which, in a more fair and just world, should have been the huge hit that freak single Part Of The Union had been – and indeed, were it not for ‘distribution irregularities’ which stalled the single at Number 51, it probably would have been. Straight away, however, the band show that this is no saccharine work, as Turn Me Round is far harder and heavier, all punchy riffs and aggressive vocals. The remaining songs on the old Side One of the vinyl keep up this strong start, with the delightfully tuneful Hard Hard Winter followed up by the vitriolic My Friend Peter and the historic storytelling of the powerful The Soldier’s Tale. All in all, this is one of the strongest sides of vinyl the band had produced.
The second half of the albums shows a slight dip at its beginning, with Simple Visions and Charmer being slightly faceless arena pop-rock and the jazz pastiche sound of Wasting My Time (Thinking Of You) also showing signs of, ironically, wasting our time. Thankfully, however, things rally mightily for the closing two songs which are arguably the best on the whole record, particularly Beside The Rio Grande, which has Dave Cousins in his best ‘apocalyptic storyteller’ mode relating the shocking and harrowing tale of an innocent preacher in the Old West horribly murdered at the hands of drunken and vengeful cowboys. It’s hard, yet compulsive, listening and shows categorically that the band’s fire was well away from being remotely extinguished. After that a calmer closing piece is required, and is delivered in the form of beautiful love song So Close And Yet So Far Away. Its lyrics hit home so directly that it’s a song which could either enrich your marriage or end it, depending on who you play it for! A great ending to a rather overlooked record.
As always with these Esoteric releases, bonus material plays a big part. While there are only seven bonus tracks here, with two being alternate edits, there is a big draw in the form of Blue Angel. Originally recorded by Cousins for his solo album Two Weeks Last Summer, the band here have their own, fully ten minute, crack at it, yet it was unfortunately not selected for the final release, though a later band version did finally appear on record in 2002. Three other newly released songs range from disposable (Oh So Sleepy) to excellent (You Won’t See The Light), while we also get a spoken word recitation of Beside The Rio Grande by Cousins which loses little of its impact in poem form.
All in all, a good addition to the Strawbs catalogue, and one which, given a following wind and some luck, could have kickstarted their career. Jump in the Deep end, and see how you go…