Reviews in this issue:
Nick & Neal - Two Separate Gorillas Live in Europe
('From The Vaults' Volume 2)
Tracklist Disc 1: Ghost Train (4:26), In Your Eyes (5:55), Skin (4:00),
Distance To The Sun (5:40), The Water/Go The Way You Go (14:00), Waste Away (4:50),
We Can Work It Out (2:55), The Good Don't Last (4:00), Irish Folk Song (3:40),
The Doorway (10:31), U2 Medley (7:00)
Tracklist Disc 2: Mein Kleiner Grüner Kaktus (2:00), Strange World (4:30),
June (5:30), Papa Was A Rolling Stone (12:50) (with Dream Theater), Strawberry Fields (3:30)
(with Mike Portnoy on vocals), Baba O'Riley (5:40) (with Dream Theater), We All Need Some
Light (4:30), Carpet Crawlers (4:30), Can't Get It Wrong (4:30), Lay It Down / The Healing Colors
of Sound (7:40).
In July 1999 and July 2000 Neal Morse and Nick D'Virgillio of Spock's Beard went on a
tour along some Irish pubs in Holland and Germany. At these concerts they played acoustic
versions of songs by The Beard, as well as some covers of other artists and bands. The
performances of these gigs - referred to as 'the Hairy Butt Tour' by Neal because the two
had to share one bedroom - are very informal and tongue-in-cheek. Some of the songs played
have been collected on Two Separate Gorillas, a title taken from the Spock's Beard song
The Time Has Come. Neal plays acoustic guitar and keyboard, Nick plays percussion and
acoustic guitar and both of them share the vocals.
The recordings come from three sources. Most of the songs come from a soundboard recording in
Oldenburg. As you can imagine the sound quality is very good. Neverthless, almost all tracks
suffer from 'skips' in the recording (little jumps in the music of less than a second) and
because of the lack of audience noise the atmosphere is lacking a bit. The other tracks
are relatively decent audience recordings (read: bootleg quality) where the music is
of lower recording quality, but there is more atmosphere because the audience is audible.
Because of the quality of the recordings the double CD has been released as part of Spock's
Beard's 'From The Vault' series.
While listening to the Spock's Beard songs on the album it's very obvious what makes this CD special;
the normally bombastic and full-blown Beard songs have been turned into more intimate, scaled down
versions. Sometimes this works extremely well (e.g. Lay It Down/Healing Colours of Sound,
Skin) while others take some time to get used to (e.g. the two parts of The Water).
The only Spock's Beard song that sounds a bit disappointing is The Doorway because it contains
quite a few playing errors. Then again, this is one of my favourite Beard songs so I might be
a bit more critical here. The other songs range from good to great, with Can't Get It Wrong
even sounding much better than its dull version on the Day for Night album.
The other half of the album consists of covers and spontaneous outburst like the Irish
Folk Song that Neal often sings for his kids and the German 'hollari, hollari, hollaro'-
filled Mein Kleiner Grüner Kaktus.
Among the covers on this album you'll find Nick D'Virgilio doing a splendid version of Peter Gabriel's
In Your Eyes (a highlight of the album), The Beatles' We Can Work It Out, and a U2 medley with
Where The Streets Have No Name and Pride. Neal on the other hand treats us to
a nice version of Marc Cohn's Ghost Train and a hilarious version of Genesis' Carpet
Crawlers, while also playing We All Need Some Light of his own Transatlantic
A special treat for Dream Theater fans is the presence of that band on the long jammin' versions
of The Temptations' Papa Was A Rolling Stone and The Who's Baby O'Riley. Unfortunately these
tracks are all audience recordings. Another disappointment is the version of Stawberry Fields
Forever with Mike Portnoy on vocals, which must be the most awful version I ever heard
of that song. Portnoy is either drunk as a duck or a very bad singer. Guess you had to be there
to appreciate it.
Although the CD comes with just a 4-page inlay booklet, it does contain some funny liner notes
and live pictures by DPRP's very own JJ de Hann [sic]. Closer study of the packaging and CD prints reveals how
Nick and Neal 'seemingly' arrived; by parachuting out of a WW II bomber plane and landing in
the Dutch landscape which is of course filled with windmills.
If you are ... A) a Spock's Beard fan that ... B) can live with far from perfect sound quality combined with an informal and sometimes
far from serious approach of the material played and if you ... C) like acoustic prog albums
... than this is a must have for you !
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
White Willow - Sacrament
Tracklist: Anamnesis (9:11), Paper Moon (6:44), The Crucible (7:32),
The Last Rose Of Summer (3:23), Gnostalgia (10:18), The Reach (10:59)
|Country of Origin:||Norway|
|Year of Release:||2000|
Sacrament is the third album from the White Willow repertoire, two years
after the critically acclaimed Ex Tenebris. In two years there has been a total
shake-up within the ranks of this group with only White Willow leader and
guitarist Jacob Holm-lupo together with vocalist Sylvia Erichsen retaining their
positions and Lupo being the only original member left. In come Brynjar Dambo on
keyboards, Aage Moltke Schou on drums, Johannes Sćebře on bass and Ketil
Vestrum Einarsen on flutes. In fact in Lupo's words this is the first
stable lineup that White Willow have had in their history so far.
What should one expect to hear on this new release? First of all the fact that
there is a permanent flutist within the lineup is already suggestive of an
acoustic sound. There is a heavy leaning towards the progressive folk style that
is symbolized by Jethro Tull, with many neo-prog influences, especially as
regards utilization of the keyboards, as well as pure folk. A quick run through
of the band's biographies as well as their major influences quickly confirms this
with artists like Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell being mentioned alongside prog-greats
such as King Crimson and Soft Machine. In fact what we get on
this album is a fusion of all the styles that these musicians represent.
Anamnesis kicks of this album and my first impression was that here was a
Scandinavian band doing its best to emulate British folk-rock bands such as Fairport
Convention and Steeleye Span. In fact Sylvia Erichsen's voice is both rich and
smooth; at times sounding uncannily like Sandy Denny or Maddy
Prior. Only half way into the track does a certain momentum pick up with more of a prog-influence
seemingly present. Erichsen's voice rises to a wail while the rest of the band
are content to act as filler's in creating a backdrop for her voice. Even the
instrumental passages remain soft and are interplays between the various
instruments with neither musician overdoing it.
When seeing the title Paper Moon, I wondered if it was a form of tribute to
the late Nick Drake, one of the major influences on the musicians in
this group. Indeed Nick Drake must be the "Paper moon who came, and left too soon." On
the other hand this track is much more intricate and features more than just a singer-songwriter and his guitar! In fact there is much less of the acoustic
folky feel; we had been regaled to on the first track, with a sound bordering on
The Crucible is a true instrumental with the initial segments of the track
having that medieval feeling courtesy of Einarsen's flute which takes over the
reins of this track sounding somewhat like Gryphon or more lately Blackmore's
Night. There is a dance-like touch to the rhythm here until half way through
when the mood changes with the track picking up in dynamism to give a Jethro
Tull feel to it.
Last Rose Of Summer, and I thought to myself that this was an album full of
tributes (in this case Judas Priest), but I was wrong. What we have here is
pure folk music. Sylvia Erichsen's voice is up there to compete with the best of
British female folk vocalists, and here we even have a duet between Erichsen and
Gnostalgia starts of in a similar vein to Last Rose with Erichsen sounding so
much like Sandy Denny that I got gooseflesh. What seems to be a White
Willow characteristic also applies here. Most if not all their tracks start off
in a soft gentle acoustic manner to suddenly break into a rhythm-driven
instrumental. The flute dominates this track during the instrumental section
giving that air of melancholy.
The Reach is in my opinion the best track
that we have on the album. The introduction is dark and foreboding with a
feeling of impending disaster or tragedy. Nursery rhymes are sung in a tragic
manner until this is picked up by the musicians. King Crimson meets Jethro
Tull is what we have here on offer. The vocals are kept slightly in the
background making them hard to discern creating more of an air of uneasiness. With a
mixture of styles and tempos this track is the masterpiece of the album.
With this album it seems that White Willow have set their course. This is one
for the lovers of the softer side of progressive rock and/or those who like
folk-prog. It makes a very interesting listen and augers well for the future. I
can understand why The Billboard Guide To Progressive Rock has hailed White
Willow as "one of the most significant groups of the progressive
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Maximum Indifference - The Transmutations Of Supposed Angels Or Beings That Were Once Girls
Tracklist: Beware The Glabyglop (4:54), Kuang Grade Mark Eleven
Penetration Program (6:06), Jack Palance The Ninja (3:30), Wedge Of Spite
(4:03), Aura And Armament (3:21), Swyncro (4:19), And Your Point Is? (5:17),
Client Weasel Tactics (3:04), Sleep Hammer (5:41), Bad Mind Does Does Not
(3:07), Halation (9:38), Apparatus (13:22)
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||Botched Records|
|Catalogue #:|| |
|Year of Release:||2000|
It's been a long time since I have heard a power trio managing to combine
heavy metal guitar with progressive overtones. Finally my wish has been granted.
Hailing from the Bay Area of San Francisco, The Transmutations of Supposed
Angels Or Beings That Were Once Angels (abbreviated as Transmutations from now
on) is the group's second album, a full four years after their debut. The trio consists
of Mark Bladek (guitars), Rich Duarte (drums) and Gustaf Fjelstrom (bass
guitars) who also is the producer resulting in a beefy sound rich in bass.
Beware The Glabyglop opens this terrifying album and is a synthesis of
what the group is all about. Hard, heavy-kicking riffs accompanied by a roving
bass and drums together with the occasional midi-synth effect. The riffs present
on this album would make many a Heavy Metal band blush and pale in comparison to
what we have on offering here. Comparisons are varied and difficult to
attribute. At times there is the cutting edge of metal groups such as Prong
whilst at other times the sound is reminiscent of early Rush.
What is definite is that the group posses a strong rhythm section that few
bands can boast of. In fact the beauty of this group is their ability to convey
virtuosism without any amount of self-indulgence. Yes, there are times when we
get the occasional solo, but it is never too long to bore the listener yet long
enough to impress!
Guitar riffs introduced Beware Of The Glabyglop while a tremendous
bass line introduces Kuan Grade Mark Eleven Pennetration Program. Its
hard to believe that all this is created by just three musicians and though I
might be wrong, live they might tend to suffer a bit in that they could be unable
to deliver the sheer power and force that they do in studio.
Jack Palance The Ninja has a lot in common with early Rush
though the catchy riff is out of a Terrorvision tune, My Best Friend.
Something that is also striking about this group is their ability to break from
their hard hitting riffs and change melody and style within the same track
almost effortlessly. Wedge Of Spite is a showcase for Gustaf Fjelstrom's
bass playing which quite frankly is almost impossible to describe and HAS to be
listened to to believe. Suffice to say that his idols are Geddy Lee and Stuart
Hamm and his resume also includes playing with Enchant on their last
Aura And Armament takes on a more relaxed style, just enough time to
recover from the fury that we have witnessed in the first four tracks of this
album. Swynchro immediately kicks off with some extricate drumming from
Rich Duarte, who at times manages to sound like a cross between Neil Pearth (Rush)
and Mike Portney (Dream Theater). Overall this track still maintains a Floydian
approach to it, in that the emphasis is not so much on the rhythm but more on
the ambient it is set in.
And Your Point Is? is more up-tempo yet still does not reach the heavy
sound that the album started off with. Not that I am disappointed as it is on
this track, as well as on the following track Client Weasel Tactics,
that the group come closest to resembling the Rush of La Villa
Strangiato. With the tempo steadily increasing from track to track so does
the riffage presented to us by Mark Bladek as well as the intricacy of the interplay
between all three of these musicians. Sleep Hammer slows down the pace
once again, only to break into the fast moving Bad Mind Does Does Not which
is similar in style and pace to what we were presented with in the initial
tracks of the album, progressive metal.
The closing two numbers of this album are essentially one track. Halation
is basically narration with the instruments and sound effects forming a backdrop
to enhance the story that is unfolding. Apparatus closes off the album as
well as the story and is a showcase for Mark Bladek's guitar. Extremely
interesting, this track is a most excellent curtain closer for this album.
As I said initially, it has been a long time since I came across a totally
instrumental album that has managed to grip me in such a manner. It should
appeal to all those who love to hear instrumentals by groups such as Dream
Theater and Djam Karet and is a must for all those who are in agony
waiting for the new Rush album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Rick Ray - Mind Control Inc.
Tracklist: Psychoward Room #9 (4.28), Robot Assassins (7.07),
Little Zombies (6.18), Mood Swings and Luney Things (4.47), Hypnotic Neurotic (6.35), Mind
Control Incorporated (5.01), Napoleon Brainapart (4.34), This is the Place (7.01), Attack of
the Mindless (3.51), Prescription for Ignorance (5.36), Looking All the Time (5.47), The
Delusion (6.35), The Stranger (4.10).
Rick Ray - Guitarsenal
Tracklist: Looking Into Your Eyes (4.32), Same Here (4.04), Taken Control
(4.11), The Rendezvous (4.33), If I had the Chance (4.50), Mellow-D (3.19), The Atom Smasher
(6.45), Bottom of the Heap (3.57), People Turn (4.28), Nine Again (4.37), Holding on to Hope
(4.57), Floating (3.56), Terry the Duplicate (5.28), It was O.K. a Minute Ago (3.28), Money
From Nothing (5.01), An unexpected Moment (4.20).
Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling Michael Corleone expressed so well in The
Godfather III? "Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!" If so, you
can imagine my sentiments when I recently recieved in the mail two new CDs from the American
musician and prophet Rick Ray.
Since joining the DPRP team in January, I've had the dubious pleasure of reviewing 11 Rick Ray
CDs and two releases of Rick's (former) band Riot Act, none of which I gave a rating
above 6 points out of 10. You can check out these reviews through these links:
Atomic Soldiers, The Key to the Bottomless Pit, Rick's back-catalogue overview and Riot Act.
Rick has recentely cancelled his self imposed retirement from live performance and
consequentely will be too busy to release any more albums in the near future. He has also
joined the internet community and on his webpage you can read the following line: "Whether it's with the band Riot Act or solo Rick Ray material you can
always expect something new from him." And this hits the heart of the problem with Rick's
releases spot on. Because you can not expect anything new from Mr. Ray. Just more of the
same! Granted, Rick does introduce a few new elements on these two latest CDs, but basically he
keeps on repeating himself. Question is if it is really necessary that I too repeat myself with
the same criticism over and over. I don't think so. Therefore I refer you to the earlier
reviews for remarks concerning Ricks music in its totality. All points made there still stand.
But lets get into the slight things Rick does differentely on these new releases.
Both CDs are a combination of purely instrumental and lyrics-driven tracks as on most Rick Ray
CDs. Mind Control Inc. shows Rick experimenting with keyboards on a few tracks, and he
makes interesting use of them on Looking All The Time. Clever use is also made of
distorted vocals on the title track and Rick Schultz on Clarinet manages to add something here,
instead of messing things up. Including its message of the dangers of psychiatric drugs, all
this makes Mind Control Incorporated one of the best tracks on the album. Other tracks
deal with a schoolboy ('Little Zomby') receiving messages in his head to kill his classmates
(something Rick has written about before) and the Anti-Christ makes a brief appearance at the
end of The Delusion. Some of the vintage Rick Ray guitar solos (here including the use of
acoustic guitar) are quite good, but at times Rick regresses into showing off his talents
instead of producing an interesting whole. Bass is handled more than adequately and Rick also
seems to have progressed in his drumming.
Compared to the few pleasant surprises Mind Control Inc. had to offer, Guitarsenal
is a huge let-down. Again we find Rick trying to incorporate keyboards more fully into his
material, which does make his more recent material more interesting to those who favor
progressive music. This album also has quite a few good guitar solos. But the tracks with
lyrics are almost all rather weak love songs and Rick's vocals are just not up to the
challenge. Schultz is again a major factor of annoyance. Some tracks just seem to go on and on
without any real goal. Sound quality of this second CD is also a lot worse than on Mind
Control Inc.. The track Taken Control sounds very familiar, but I can't be bothered
to listen through all of Ricks earlier work to come to a comparison.
All in all Mind Control Inc. is one of Rick Ray's better releases, though it is
inconsequential if you already own some of his earlier material. I never quite figured out if
Rick is serious about the topics he writes about, but this CD features some hilarious phrases
like: "Mind Control is the spiritual warfare that the biblical prophecy speaks of. Anyone
who believes the lies from the media has already lost a major battle! Anyone taking psychiatric
drugs is almost a casualty!" Guitarsenal, on the other hand, is a dissapointing CD
and should be overlooked by all but the most avid Rick Ray fan.
I did notice that some websites on progressive rock were far more sympathetic to Rick
than I have been and am, some going as far as to praise his musicianship or recommend his
albums. So it occured to me that maybe I was missing something. But when I asked several of my
friends, varying from more die-hard prog fans to country and jazz afficianados, to sample
Rick's albums, it turned out they all shared my negative view or were even more critical, to
put it mildly. Their attitude was consistent with my own first impression of Rick Ray, back in
February, when I ridiculed the first album of his I reviewed. When the entire backcatalogue
arrived and I had to sit through a small dozen of Ray's albums, my attitude softened somewhat
and I sorted what I thought were the mediocre songs from the downright awful. Who knows, I may
have been victim to some sort of sensory overload. I still enjoy some of Rick's work, but with
these two albums he shows hardly any innovation or imagination, continueing on the road he has
tred for years. That's his choice, but I personally hope getting back on the road will result
in some new input to his music.
The year 2000 has seen a lot of good releases in progressive music. But for me, this past year
will always in some respects remain the year of Rick Ray.
You can order all Rick Ray and Riot Act CDs at the Of Sound
Mind on-line catalogue for $9.00 each or for $7.00 from Neurosis Records by cash check or
Money order made payable to Rick Ray 20301 Ball Ave., Euclid, OH 44123 U.S.A.
Conclusion Mind Control Inc.: 5 out of 10.
Conclusion Guitarsenal : 4 out of 10.