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In 1971, Strawbs released their fourth album, From the Witchwood. It was only their second album to have an American release (their self-entitled 1969 debut and 1970's Dragonfly, were originally released only in the UK, and never received an American release, so as you might guess, those are their hardest to acquire albums, because they only got reissued on CD in Korea on the prog label Si-Wan). Strawbs differed from many of their folk-rock contemporaries (like Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span), since they never covered traditional folk material, and insisted on their own compositions. Which suits them fine. Here, the band was still sticking to their folk roots, but you start noticing some prog tendencies starting to show up, for example, "The Shephard's Song", which has a symphonic feel, and Wakeman gives some nice Mellotron work, plus the first time a Moog was used on a Strawbs album. Unfortunately it's the only song Wakeman provides Mellotron while in the Strawbs (of course, we all know that Wakeman put the Mellotron to far greater use in Yes). Many people tend to believe the best stuff on this album is the stuff written by Dave Cousins, as a lot of the other material written by the other guys, while not bad, often tended to be experimental, or not the most structured.
"A Glimpse of Heaven" is the opening cut, written by Dave Cousins, here, it's a singalong type a song, the band often had a habit of giving us a singalong on many of their albums (other examples of course include "Part of the Union" off Bursting at the Seams and "Shine On Silver Sun" off Hero & Heroine). The next song, "Witchwood", written by Cousins again, shows the folk roots of this band, with nice use of mandolin, and some great vocal harmonies. John Ford gives us "Thirty Days", which is especially interesting for the use of sitar. Vocal harmonies are used on this piece as well. Richard Hudson's "Flight" has a really nice chorus at the end. "The Hangman and the Papist" is usually regarded as the album's high point (as you might guess, it was Cousins who wrote this), and became a staple in the band's live repertoire. Hudson's "Canon Dale" is an odd, experimental piece, that features some nice organ work from Wakeman, and some rather unexpected psychedelic passages as well. "The Shepherd's Song", as mentioned before, a prime example of some of that band's prog elements showing up, with a symphonic feel, Mellotron, and some oddly Spanish-influenced passages that were played on Wakeman's Moog! But you have to bear in mind that the progressive material of the Strawbs were never going to be anywhere as complex as Gentle Giant. "In Amongst the Roses" is a really pleasant, laid-back acoustic piece, with more great vocal harmonies. While the album might be a bit uneven, and the production is rather lousy, the album is packed with excellent material, progressive or not!
Unfortunately this was the last Strawbs album Wakeman would be in. But his fortunes would make a turn for the better when Yes lost Tony Kaye, and Wakeman joined that band. It was said that Yes was in need of a keyboardist who was more willing to play more than just organ. Wakeman obviously had no problem with a multiple-keyboard setup, which was what Yes wanted, and the results, Fragile and Close to the Edge are usually regarded as their finest albums. Tony Kaye, on the other hand, was basically an organist at that time and was reluctant to play other instruments, he was basically talked in to playing Moog on The Yes Album, but what's really strange, is in some of the bands Kaye would later end up in, like Flash and Badger, he continued to play synthesizers, and (in the case of Badger) Mellotron (an instrument he said he always hated)!
Well From the Witchwood is an excellent album, and despite a few drawbacks, still is recommended!