The Strawbs had done an album with Sandy Denny handling many of the vocals, and had also done quite a bit of unreleased recordings (now on the double CD Preserves Uncanned) prior to 1969's Strawbs. This is still their first proper album, but their wealth of prior live and studio experience most likely helped make it sound more confident and fully formed than many a debut effort. The group distinguished itself among the burgeoning school of British folk-rockers by delivering bittersweet folk-rock with a storytelling flavor. Dave Cousins' songwriting was on the sober and occasionally over-earnest side, but nonetheless the record was strong and alluring enough to immediately establish the Strawbs as one of the better first-generation U.K. folk-rock outfits. Some of these songs had been around for a while, as the presence of some of them on Preserves Uncanned and Sandy Denny & the Strawbs attests. However, the group took big strides from bare-bones folk-rock in the studio by dressing these in arrangements -- sometimes with light recorder, choral backup vocals, and orchestration -- that gave the Elizabethan melodies a pastoral, quasi-classical feel at times, without losing sight of an acoustic base. "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" and "Where Is This Dream of Your Youth" are among their best and most ambitious songs, and even if the compositions can sometimes take themselves too seriously, the music's never less than respectable. AMG.