Ghosts was the last album by the Strawbs to appear while the band was on its upward curve of commercial success; a more lyrical follow-up to Hero and Heroine, it was the group's last thrust at wide-audience appeal, with a hoped for-hit ("Lemon Pie") that didn't materialize. The group's mix of acoustic guitars, electric lead and bass, and Rod Coombes' heavy drumming was very compelling on this, their smoothest album. The title track introduction, mixing multiple overdubbed harpsichords, acoustic guitars, and church bells was a gorgeous beginning, and the melodies only got better further into the album. The hauntingly beautiful "Starshine/Angel Wine" was a magnificent successor to "Lay Down" off of Bursting at the Seams, with a moment of Led Zeppelin-like flash from Dave Lambert's playing in the break, while "The Life Auction" was a bigger, bolder follow-up to "The Hangman and the Papist." The original finale, "Grace Darling," is probably the prettiest tune Dave Cousins ever wrote. Alas, Ghosts would be the group's last record to be released before the changes in music — with the introduction of punk rock in the middle of the '70s — began hemming them in, and they never again put out an album with as much panache as this. Previously available on CD only from Japan, in 1998 Ghosts was reissued by A&M in England with a sharp, clean digital sound that greatly enhanced the rich textures of the playing, and one bonus track, Coombes' unexpectedly lyrical "Changes Arrange Us," which had previously been available only as a single B-side. (British import)
little known 70s masterpiece - buy it!
I know the Strawbs were difficult for the mass audiences to connect to, but maybe that's all for the better. Their Brit-folk roots colored their sound, but for we fans, that's one of the things we like best about them. I don't know that it was ever really fair to call them progressive rock, maybe art rock is a better tag, or folk-pop-rock(?) but who needs labels anyway? The bottom line is that "Ghosts" should be a famous 70s classic, but with no single that really represented their sound, the record company and AOR radio didn't know what to do. For my taste they should have tried "Don't Try to Change Me" as the single, not the silly "Lemon Pie". I hear they tried "Grace Darling" as a single, but beautiful as it was, that's not the kind of song you try to introduce the band to the world with. This LP will always have a place in my heart, especially Dave Lambert's riff to open "Angel Wine".