Lambert and Cronk

Touch the Earth

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Dave Cousins has been such a dominant creative force and voice in the Strawbs for so long, that it's sometimes easy to forget that the other longtime members of that band might have something to say in music. That's the case with this album, which was mostly recorded by Dave Lambert and Charles Cronk of the Strawbs during the group's early-'80s hiatus. The songs are catchy, hook-laden pop/rock, showing some of the influence of the lighter side of progressive rock, as well as early synth pop, but mostly decked out in fine singing and exquisite guitar flourishes (including enough layers of low-wattage electric and acoustic playing to remind us of their work with the Strawbs). Moments here call to mind some of the most appealing work of Thomas Dolby, while other places do recall their past with the Strawbs, though that influence is more in the details than the main thrust of the music, which is toward a bold brand of pop/rock. Neither Lambert nor Cronk is a great singer, but each is expressive and that's more than enough when the songs and the playing are as good as they are here. Additionally, what makes this album doubly attractive is that it transcends the obvious point of its origins. It is different enough from the Strawbs' work so that it needn't be passed by as secondary to the latter group's work -- it's a whole other branch of work by two musicians whose work has been at the core of their sound during the band's period of greatest popularity (and who remain with the group in 2009). One could easily imagine some of the phrasings and guitar flourishes, bass parts, and backing vocals in the context of the group, especially in their late-'70s incarnation, but the music is definitely not Strawbs-lite. If anything, it reminds one of the welcome surprise one felt at the start of the '70s on discovering that John Entwistle could deliver a great album separate from the Who. Lambert and Cronk turn out to have voices that are worth hearing on their own, and had at least as much appeal as (and perhaps more Strawbs-like lyricism than), say, Hudson-Ford. The two 2006-vintage tracks that close the album are more lyrical and reflective than most of the rest -- the times were different, like the times in both musicians' lives -- but they don't spoil anything that came before and allow the duo to bring their personae up to the present day. And it all fits together surprisingly well, given the 25-year gap between those cuts and the rest of the CD.

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