Charles ‘Chas’ Cronk is an English rock singer-songwriter, musician and producer. However, he is best known as the bassist for the Strawbs from 1973 to 1980 and then from 2004 to the present. Cronk has also collaborated on studio recordings and toured with the likes of Steve Hackett (Genesis) and Rick Wakeman (Yes). In addition, he has also done quite a bit of studio session work for others and collaborated on several film soundtracks.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world went into lockdown, Cronk used his time in quarantine to work on his solo material. He spent the time perfecting his craft and preparing for his biggest release to date. Originally slated to be an EP, the album Liberty is the result of all this work, with all the music being recorded and produced during the lockdown. All instruments and vocals were performed and recorded by Cronk, with the exception of some help from drummer Major Baldini and Strawbs buddies Dave Lambert and Dave Bainbridge. The album was mixed and produced by Cronk himself, the cover design is by John W Edwards.
I initially knew Chas Cronk mainly from his role in Steve Hackett’s touring band, in which I saw him perform live several times. That would have been around 1981. Only later did I delve into the work of Strawbs, for me at the time an acquired taste. Now, after many years, all of a sudden there’s new work by the man who has spent most of his musicianship as a permanent bassist for Strawbs. After his debut with ambient music, Mystic Mountain Music from 2002, Liberty recently saw the light of day.
Title track and opener Liberty sounds familiar to me: that’s correct, the song already appeared on the latest Strawbs album, Settlement, and is re-released here in almost exactly the same arrangement. Funny. Liberty is immediately one of the better songs on the album. Not entirely coincidentally, the songs in which guest musicians play a role also stand out. For example, the already mentioned role of Strawbs leader Dave Lambert with his varied guitar playing is decisive for the success of A Splash of Blue, a song that also appeared earlier (in 2007). The same goes for the extraordinary guitar solo by multi-instrumentalist and Strawbs colleague Dave Bainbridge on Slipping Downstream. The rest of the songs aren’t bad, but aren’t very special either. Unobtrusive, pleasant to the ear melodic music with a slightly progressive edge, that’s how I would like to characterise it.
You can hear influences from the Moody Blues (Everybody Knows) and Barclay James Harvest (A Splash of Blue), but apart from the already mentioned songs and maybe the rocking Into the Light, none really stand out. Some songs have a clear ’80s signature (Take My Hand, Away), possibly the use of vintage (synthesiser) equipment is to blame. Cronk does not have an unpleasant, somewhat inconspicuous singing voice and works his way through his self-penned repertoire without significant problems. It all doesn’t stick, unfortunately, a number of songs aren’t strong enough to stand the test of time. As stated, it is notable that the songs in which the help of others is called upon are among the best material. Maybe hire a few more ‘specialists’ next time?
All in all, a pretty decent, but certainly not earth-shattering album, with nice melodies and pleasant music. Unpretentious, nothing wrong with that.
01. Liberty (5:40)
02. Take My Hand (5:27)
03. A Splash of Blue (4:59)
04. Everybody Knows (4:32)
05. Flying Free (2:23)
06. Into the Light (4:44)
07. Slipping Downstream (4:48)
08. Away (5:25)
09. System Overload (4:22)
10. Reverie (2:19)
Total Time – 44:39
Chas Cronk – All Instruments, Vocals
Major Baldini – Drums (track 1)
Dave Lambert – Guitars (track 3)
Dave Bainbridge – Guitar Solo (track 7)
Record Label: Renaissance Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 11th February 2022