There's a nifty feature at the authoritative All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com). In addition to listing the obvious categories for each artist -- genre, members, awards -- there is a "Tones" category that lists adjectives that apply to the artist's music. The tones listed for the vintage British progressive rock band the Strawbs are dead-on: eccentric, bittersweet, reflective, autumnal, ambitious, literate, quirky, elaborate.
Those words wouldn't have quite fit the first incarnation of the band.
When it was founded in the early 1960s, the group was a bluegrass trio called the Strawberry Hill Boys. After changing names and personnel (Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny and Yes's Rick Wakeman stopped by before joining the bands that made them famous), the Strawbs evolved from acoustic folk-rock textures to something bigger and bolder over the course of a half-dozen albums on A&M Records.
In 1974, the group released its masterwork, an orchestral concept album called "Hero and Heroine" that placed the Strawbs alongside progressive rock heroes such as King Crimson and Pink Floyd. The follow-up album, "Ghosts," featured similarly ambitious sounds, including an 81/2-minute title suite, but the band's star faded -- at least in America.
If you thought that was the end of the Strawbs, a quick visit to the band's comprehensive official Web site, www.strawbsweb.co.uk, reveals many subsequent releases and lineups for the very-active British artists.
The current "Electric U.S. Strawbs" incarnation is arguably the definitive one, including founding singer-songwriter Dave Cousins, guitarist Dave Lambert, keyboardist John Hawken, bass player Chas Cronk and drummer Rod Coombes -- the same lineup that recorded "Hero and Heroine" 30 years ago.
Lest you fear that such a return is a predictable cash-in on glories past, recent reviews are more than reassuring. Discussing a Strawbs performance last year at New York City's Bottom Line, Time Out magazine praised the band's "sensitivity and nuance, not to mention a wry humor that belied the Strawbs' solemn '70s image. . . . The songs achieved a vibrant intimacy that effortlessly blew away three decades' worth of dust off the band's catalog."
Another reunion, this one with a local twist, lies in the glorious return of the New St. George, the District's own fine purveyors of avant-garde/traditional British sounds. After about a decade together, the New St. George disbanded in 1995, leaving behind one album, "High Tea," and thousands of disappointed area fans. Many of the band's members, including Jennifer Cutting, Lisa Moscatiello and Al Petteway, have released solo works in the interim, but having a version of the full band back together after so many years is a rare treat.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
The Birchmere is located at 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. General admission tickets are $20 in advance, $25 on the day of the show. Tickets are available through www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 703-551-SEAT. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the box office from 5 to 9 p.m. on show days. For more information, call 703-549-7500 or visit www.birchmere.com.
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