Thursday, November 30, 2017

Strawbs, Sellersville Theater, 11/10/2017, Early Show; Progressive Rock is Alive and Well

Photo by Matt Condon via

File this one under live music that I never thought I'd see. For what seems like the last decade, the Acoustic Strawbs have been periodically touring the U.S. I've thought about going more than once and although some of their music would lend itself well to the acoustic treatment, you really need the full band to do justice to the Hero and Heroine type material.

The Strawbs have reassembled the full electric band and they are now out on tour. The Strawbs are Dave Cousins (founder) on lead vocals and acoustic guitars, Dave Lambert on guitars and vocals, Dave Bainbridge on keyboards and guitar, Chas Cronk on bass, and Tony Fernandez on drums. All five are consummate musicians; when they play, the music is extraordinary. Cousins' voice is so uniquely distinctive that when he sings you would not mistake this band for any other.

They opened with a very impressive and weighty track, "The Nails from the Hands of Christ", from their new album The Ferryman's Curse (CD due December 8th). The show was loud and sounded like The Strawbs at their progressive best. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one at the show who was pleasantly surprised to find that their new material was so strong, even in comparison to their seventies glory days. All told, they did four terrific tracks from the album. Watch the videos below and check them out.

"The Ten Commandments" was a flat out rocker, and I can't get enough of "The Familiarity of Old Lovers", which featured twin lead guitars played by Lambert and Bainbridge. They went back to the album Nomadness for "The Promised Land". From Bursting at the Seams they drew a pair of tracks, "The River" and "Down by the Sea", complete with a great intro by Cousins.

The Strawbs sounded amazing throughout the show which concluded with an excellent suite of songs from Hero and Heroine (1974). Before launching into that part of the set, Cousins noted that Hero and Heroine has been their biggest selling album over the years and that in 2015 Rolling Stone magazine included Hero and Heroine on its list of the 50 all time best prog rock albums.

The suite began with the multi-part "Autumn" sounding more amazing than I ever dared hope. That was followed by a hot rendition of the title track, "Hero and Heroine". After a brief instrumental, they finished with the one-two punch of "Out In the Cold" and "Round & Round", which left my head spinning with what an incredible show I had just witnessed.

Breaking with normal concert tradition, as Cousins noted, they came out for their encore and played another excellent track, "We Have the Power", from their new album. The Sellersville Theatre was packed with The Strawbs' faithful who tried hard to bring the group back out for a second encore. I was thinking that "Benedictus" from Grave New World would have made a sweet second encore being that it was their first song to receive significant air play in Philadelphia, but it was not to be.

I might ordinarily be inclined to say that the Hero and Heroine suite was my favorite part of the show. However, as great as it was to hear that, I'm here to say that the best part of the show was how good the new material sounded. It is gratifying to know that progressive rock is alive and well in 2017.

Many thanks to the Sellersville Theater for the sound and lighting. Thanks also to Beverly Kates for camera and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Setlist - Click linked songs to watch
01. The Nails from the Hands of Christ
02. Ghosts
03. The Promised Land
04. The Ten Commandments
05. The River/ Down by the Sea
06. The Familiarity of Old Lovers
07. Autumn: Heroine's theme / Deep summer's sleep / The winter long
08. Hero and Heroine
09. Link (Instrumental)
10. Out In the Cold/ Round & Round
11. We Have the Power (Encore)

Photo by Matt Condon via

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Nora Jane Struthers - Sellersville Theater, 10/28/2017; Struthers and Her Band Played Two Sets at Sellersville Showcasing Her New Album, Champion, and Much More

Photo courtesy of Nora Jane Struthers

Saturday night October 28th: When I got home from the concert, I posted the following to Nora Jane Struthers' FaceBook page:

Thank you Nora Jane for bringing your show to the Sellersville Theatre tonight. I have wanted to see you live ever since falling in love with your last album, Wake. In addition to the great songs, there's something about that record which gives it a good time bar band vibe. After missing you at the Steel Stacks in August, I wasn't going to miss this one. It was a fantastic night and your live show puts it all in perspective. Thanks also for coming up to say hi. It was a great night of music and everyone there enjoyed the heck out of it.

With no opening act, Struthers played two sets. The first set was drawn largely from her latest album, Champion, and from Wake, her previous record.

What attracts me to this artist even more than the excellent songwriting, production, and vocals by Struthers, is the extraordinary high level of musicianship. Nora Jane's husband, Joe Overton, plays a myriad of instruments including some magnificent pedal steel; he's also adept at the fiddle, guitar, and banjo. I'm also a fan of Josh Vana's electric guitar work, plus he plays acoustic guitar and some harmonica. For the show, we only heard half of her first rate rhythm section, specifically the Brian Duncan Miller on bass half; drummer Drew Lawhorn made a commitment before this show was booked, so Struthers decided to go without. She explained, while introducing "Grass", that going drummerless would present a number of musical challenges, as well as an opportunity to play some material that they don't usually play.

After the intermission, she performed an acoustic duet with Overton on "Susannah Gal". Then, as a special treat Struthers brought out her dad Alan Struthers for another acoustic duet, "Happy Sunny Side". The father-daughter duo, who once jokingly referred to themselves as the Struthers Brothers, just recorded a new album together, their second, which Struthers said would be released in late 2018 or some time in 2019. The sixteen tracks of that album can be heard now and/or downloaded via Struthers' Patreon page. According to Struthers, the duo's debut album dates back to 2009 and she proudly noted that the initial run of 1,000 copies has sold out.

Overton returned to the stage for a family trio rendition of the gospel standard "All Night Long" ("Paul and Silas") with lyrics that were drawn directly from scripture.

Struthers covered a lot of ground in her set. She talked about coming from a background of folk and bluegrass; with her current band she has added rock and country to her arsenal. Her live show puts this all into perspective.

Struthers nicely explained the songs she played and talked about growing up in New Jersey; she lives in Nashville now and extended an open invitation to come on down and go "honkytonkin." If you go, don't forget to ask about the Jack Daniels Slushies and have a "holler and a swaller."

Watch "Grass" and check out the gorgeous pedal steel, plus some excellent electric guitar.

Setlist: Click linked songs to watch
01. Each
02. Grass
03. Mistake
04. Wake
05. Dreamin'
06. Champion
07. Belief
08. Just A House (from the seats)
09. Wonderful Home
10. Susannah Gal feat. Joe Overton
11. Happy Sunny Side feat. Alan Struthers
12. Gospel Song - All Night Long
13. Carnival
14. Bike Ride
15. Show Me
16. The Words
17. Won't Back Down

Nora Jane Struthers' Website
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