Reviews in this issue:
Planet X - Moonbabies
Tracklist: Mooonbabies (5.39), The Noble Savage (6.15), Ataraxia (6.18), Tonaz (4.00), Boy With A Flute (5.56), Interlude In Milan (4.41), Digital Vertigo (4.25), Ground Zero (6.03), Midnight Bell (3.56), Ignotus Per Ignotum (7.09)
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" - a Hollywood chliché? Well, maybe so, but in some cases this doesn't have to be negative. With Moonbabies The-Coolest-Trio-In-The-World™ continue from the same point as where they left it with their previous outing Universe. Derek Sherinian (keys), Virgil Donati (drums) and Tony MacAlpine (guitars) have settled themselves firmly in that nice little niche between fusion and progressive power rock, delivering yet another feast of great heavy riffs and cool fast licks.
So even though the music of Planet X hasn't really evolved much it has to be said that they have managed to create some sort of a unique and very identifiable sound. I cannot name a title to any Planet X track when I hear it (names are not important, Derek once told me) yet it is immediately unmistakably clear that this is Planet X. Certainly not a bad achievement for a second album (not counting the two Sherinian solo albums of course).
Even though at first sight their music seems as if it's completely improvised, the band spent 15 months writing and recording Moonbabies. So you can be sure that each and every note that is played was carefully thought out. This shows in the very 'polished' sound of the production as well (courtesy of Simon Phillips).
As with its predecessor Universe, the music is more power driven and less variable than on Sherinian solo albums (which usually contain the odd fun track, or ballad type melody). The biggest surprises are actually the two bass solos that can be found on the album, especially when you consider the band has no bass player! The album stars three special guest bassists: Tom Kennedy, Jimmy Johnson and Billy Sheehan (Talas, Mr Big, David Lee Roth).
The only thing I just can't get my head around is the so-called 'hidden' track which follows Ignotus Per Ignotum (which premiered on the live registration Live From Oz) after a few minutes silence. A nice atmospheric ditty on synthesiser and acoustic guitar, which could have been a great track had it been a few minutes longer and somewhere in the middle of the album. Now it's nothing more than a nuisance when you have this album in a CD-changer.
In conclusion, even though there is not much progression in their music, their albums don't get any worse either. If you liked the rest of them, be sure to check this one out!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Bart Jan van der Vorst
John Young - Significance
Tracklist: Significance (4:21), All Gone (3:14), Closer (4:26), When I was Young (4:15), Papa (3:36), Open Skies (3:56),
Underside (6:44), Stranger than Fiction (3:34), Listening (3:34), Used (3:36), Under Angels Wings (3:17), Just One Day (4:35),
For those more frequent visitors to the CD review pages, you will already be
familiar with John Young, as this will be the third related release from him this
year. We have previously looked at
A Young Persons Guide, and his involvement on
the Greenslade 2001-Live The Full Edition.
It would appear, therefore, that the musical output from John is on the increase at
the moment, however there are no indications that standards have fallen or compromised along the way.
Far from it, as the CD in front of me confirms this, with thirteen carefully written
and constructed songs.
The tracks are all composed from the keyboard, firmly
entrenching John in the singer - song writer mould for this release. Although no
great similarity within the material should be drawn from the following list,
certainly an indication as to the constructional nature of the pieces could be
derived. Early Billy Joel and perhaps Elton John, Sting,
John Wetton, Phil Collins and so on. Along with these
references though, note should be made of John's keyboard influences, Patrick Moraz
being the one most cited, and all of which go to colour the tracks and
make an extremely satisfying album.
So to the material, and for the moment we
will set aside the music and concentrate on the lyrics. For someone who listens
and reviews more instrumentally orientated albums, I quite often tend to skip over
this area. Significance is not album however that the lyrics can, or should be
ignored. Covering a varied number of subject matters, the words are insightful, observant
and serve well the melodies attached to them. Liner notes accompany all tracks,
adding further commentary to the songs, and illustrating the thought processes
underlying the lyrics.
Having briefly discussed the lyrical content, our thoughts now turn to the
music, and as touched upon previously the tracks are constructed in a song
format. By this I mean that in general, the songs are concise and tend not to
follow in a progressive rock format where the themes, melodies and arrangements
are allowed to develop over a longer period of time. We are, however,
compensated for this by the depth of the song writing and, as I have mentioned in
previous John Young reviews, the selection and fine usage of sounds. This is in
itself a gift and not one possessed by all the great keyboard players, in whatever
style of music. Careful selection of keyboard parts and timbres is as important
in modern music, as it is in orchestral or symphony music. John's classical
training has obviously served him well in this area.
Much of the material to be found on Significance takes an easy listening approach,
although there is much variation and power in the delivery, as can be found in
Just One Day and Papa (instrumental). In this respect
it reminded me of some of Peter Gabriel's early solo material. It would
be difficult to single out specific tracks for
individual praise, as almost all of the material is strong. What does set this
album above many of it's more commercially orientated counterparts is the
overall treatment given to each of the tracks, making them more accomplished and
refined. A difficult one to quantify really - further pointers not already mentioned
might be Mike and the Mechanics, Neal Morse and possibly some of
Yes' later song based material.
Once again the vocals are well executed, and safe to say now that I have now warmed
to John Young's voice, which at times reminiscent John Wetton. Perhaps this is aided
by the style of writing here, or the fact that the two men have collaborated on
material together over the last few years. Underside was the track that
most typified this for me, a piano driven track with a strong melody
interspersed with several over-laying and atmospheric keyboard sections. It is
these nuances that sets Significance above similar song-orientated albums,
whether it be in a subtle percussion part, or a tasteful keyboard motif. The
maturity shown throughout the CD reflects John's numerous and varied
involvements within the music industry, no better displayed than in Closer.
The track recounts "A secret relationship between two spies, a story of love,
espionage and deception". A finely produced track embellished by some
tasteful guitar from Matt Prior and subtle bass parts provided by Ed Poole -
all of which nicely depict the mysterious undercover world amicably.
Before concluding I would like to mention the following items of note. I have
already touched upon sound selection, however one further aspect of this arose
whilst listening to the solo sections on Just One Day, Open Skies and
Under Angels Wings. The execution of the notes, and what makes these solos
special, is that they are constructed and played in a very guitar like fashion - Jan Hammer
is a great exponent of this, and John has also taken this art on board. Perhaps
these parts are by way of pre-empting what others might play in a live
performance, but hopefully those who catch these songs in concert, may also enjoy
them as they appear here. One final note before concluding would be to mention a song,
which I have played over and over. All Gone is a
gentle piece with a harp like texture, gentle chordal accompaniment and a
beautiful melody. A simple but very effective song - excellent!
John's album is exclusively available (pending major record label
intervention) from his website priced
£12 or $20 respectively and well worth it in my opinion. As you may already have
gathered this not a prog rock album, but we must all be wary not to judge music merely upon
the label that is attached to it. Good music does not always have to be in odd
time signatures and feature "twenty minute mellotron solos" to be
great, (but nice!). Significance is one such album. You do feel with this album,
that given the right airplay a much larger market might open up for John Young.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - The Yes Piano Variations
Tracklist: Awaken (8:54), Heart Of The Sunrise (7:20), The Meeting (4:12), Your Move (7:27), Close To The Edge (7:31), Long Distance Runaround (7:10).
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Legends Records|
|Year of Release:||2002|
Best known for his classic prog rock albums (solo and with Yes), keyboardist Rick Wakeman has also released a series of New Age-style albums, and a string of re-recordings of his earlier solo works. Even for his biggest fans, it seems almost impossible to keep track of all these releases. The Yes Piano Variations seems to be one of his more interesting ones.
As the album title suggest, The Yes Piano Variations contains acoustic piano improvisations on Yes songs. I must point out that the album contains no new music: the pieces were taken from two earlier Wakeman albums, recorded in 2001 (Two Sides Of Yes, volume 1 & 2).
Both had new versions of original Yes pieces, partly on piano, and the rest played in instrumental synth rock versions. A lot of Wakeman fans preferred the piano stuff to be separated from the other stuff, and therefore the record company decided to gather all the piano tracks on a new album, The Yes Piano Variations. And I must say it's a well balanced, thematical collection, that could even be considered as a "new" album in its own right.
The Yes Piano Variations contains six instrumental pieces. No vocals or background instruments are used, it's just piano. The music were all original Yes compositions, but completely reworked as piano solos or duets. Stylistically, the music is quite classical (like on Wakeman's The Classical Connection and the live recording The Piano Album). So it all sounds a bit less New Agey than some of his other piano albums (like the Airs-trilogy or Heritage Suite).
The albums opens with Awaken. The Yes original was a real band piece, but on this new version, Wakeman goes through all the different sections, shifting nicely between the dreamy, breakable parts and the more aggressive moments, with great classy tension building.
In Heart Of The Sunrise, Wakeman gets even further away from the Yes original. At times, it sounds like a completely new song, with original song snippets thrown in every now and then.
The Meeting is a bit less surprising: it's a nice version, but as the original Yes song was no complex epic (more like a gently ballad) Wakeman has less themes to improvise on.
More interesting is Your Move. In fact it's not too far away from the Yes original, but still it sounds very different, and full of those typical Wakeman fast piano loops.
One of the best known Yes epics is Close To The Edge. The new version is a beautiful improvisation around the original themes.
And the final track, Long Distance Runaround, also sounds like a new song, with lots of new stuff, but regularly returning to the original themes.
I liked this album very much! It might be bit short, and I found the sound a bit "sterile", but for me this is a valuable compilation. With these interesting versions of Yes favs, it seems a must-have for Wakeman fans, also recommended to those who can live without the (often not-so-different and certainly-not-better) reworkings of Wakeman's earlier material.
The one question that remains: when can we expect a Yes unplugged album?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Caravan - Green Bottles
Tracklist: Green Bottles For Marjorie (2:36), Place Of My Own (4:13), Feelin' Reelin' Squealin' (5:43),
Ride (4:20), Nine Feet Underground (19:20), In The Land Of Grey And Pink (4:05), Feelin', Reelin' Squealin'
(10:10), The Love In Your Eye (11:47)
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Caravan Music|
|Catalogue #:||CARAV 001|
|Year of Release:||2002|
The prospect of hearing and reviewing new material from the legendary Caravan is always an exciting prospect, at
least to me! One of two major bands to offshoot from The Wilde Flowers (the second band was Soft
Machine), Caravan always were the more ear-friendly branch of the Canterbury Scene managing to blend the
exciting sounds of psychedelia with that of jazz rock. Green Bottles For Marjorie is not a studio album but rather
a collection of BBC recordings which till now had never been released. The tracks are taken from the halcyon days
of the band when their music was considered at the vanguard of the British experimental rock movement.
The recordings themselves are culled from three separate session, all of which show the band in various stages
of the musical progression. The first session is from a Top Gear session in 1968 which sees the band having just
released their first album though already with material being prepared for their second recording. In fact Green
Bottles For Marjorie, the opening and title track of this album is instantly recognisable by all Caravan fans
as the progenitor to If I Could Do It All Over Again I'd Do It All Over You, the title track to the band's
second album. The dominant sound on this tracks is Dave Sinclair's Hammond which booms out above the rather subdued
recording of the other instruments. Both Place Of My Own and Ride appeared on the Caravan album
and encapsulate the essence of the band's debut whose sound was so reminiscent of the rock bands of that era such
as early Deep Purple and Atomic Rooster where the power of the band emanated from the organ rather
than the distortion of the guitar.
An interesting comparison that arises out this album is the presence of two separate recordings of the Kevin
Ayer's composition Feelin' Reelin', Squealin'. Having played with The Wilde Flowers, Ayers was no
stranger to Caravan and his track appears in two distinctive versions. The first, 1968 version only lasts just
under six minutes but immediately one starts to note the influences of psychedelia, of which Ayers was a prime
exponent. This is exploited in the 1971 recording by which the the influences of psychedelic music had impregnated
the very own music of Caravan who thus were able to fully expand on this track within their own musical cocoon. As
Aymeric Leroy states in the liner notes, "the intense finale is probably more akin to early Pink Floyd than
Caravan", an indication of the psychedelic nature of this recording!
In fact the next batch of recordings comes from a 1971 Radio One In Concert broadcast and comes during the
period when the band had released In the Land Of Grey And Pink. One immediately notes that the bands musical
repertoire had expanded greatly to incorporate lengthier and more experimental tracks. A case in point was Nine
Feet Underground clocking at just less than twenty minutes which sees the band indulging in lengthy solos with
the remainder of the band plodding along till the cue to change soloist came along. Nevertheless this music remains
some of the most intriguing yet underrated material that Britain ever produced in the late sixties/early seventies.
This sumptuous collection of recordings comes to a close with The Love In Your Eye and was recorded in
1972, just prior to the release of the Waterloo Lily album. By now the band was experiencing significant changes
within the musical style, a change also reflected in the line-up which saw Dave Sinclair replaced by the more jazz
orientated Steve Miller on keyboards. Apart from the technical and clinical approach to this piece, this recording
is also of great importance because it would only be a few weeks after the recording that both Richard Sinclair and
Steve Miller would leave Caravan.
Green Bottles For Marjorie is definitely not the album that the uninitiated should procure to be able to
appreciate caravan. There are several more lavish compilations available on the market. However, this album is of
immense interest for all those who like this band mainly because of the comparisons one can make whilst listening
to the various tracks from different musical eras which enable the listener to witness the evolution of a classic
progressive rock band.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
James Band - It's Been Done
Tracklist: Waiting For The Sun (6.43), Hallelujah (3.30), Starting (3.33), Circles (4.42), The Man (3.02), Forgiven (5.40), Over (3.14), Postcard (4.30), The Lake (5.26), Rain Dance (4.15), And (6.57), 7 Days (6.34)
Psychedelic Retro Prog anyone? No, I hadn't heard of it either, but it is exactly what this Norwegian quartet delivers. Very late-sixties, early seventies style prog melodies, played by a band that uses authentic instruments that are probably older than their musical influence. And they release music on... vinyl??
Well, this is certainly one of the most interesting releases I've ever received for review. After two 12", one 10" and a 7" vinyl releases they released this CD which is basically a compilation of tracks from their vinyl releases. After reading about these releases I have to say it's a pity the title track of their second release hasn't been included on this CD. I mean, you can't go wrong with a title like Gesundheitswiederherstellungsmittelzusammenverhältnisskundiger, right?
But strange release habits and titles aside, what about the music? I must say musically the band is equally interesting. The band consists of Erlend Sørensen (drums), Louis A.S. Holbrook (keyboards), Anders S. Elle (bass) and Trond Breen (guitars and vocals) and apart from these instruments all play synthesizer on one track or another, as well as a wide variety of more exotic instruments like bongos, sheep's bell, juice harp, bottles in a tray, squeaky chair, breaking glass, trash can, corrugated iron and an ashtray.
The opener Waiting For The Sun is a killer. It starts with a promising Rush style riff, but then breaks into a Madness style ska rhythm, complete with funny analogue keyboard twiddles, only to give way to... a Pink -Careful with that axe Eugene- Floyd bass line. The rest of the track is a great melancholic song in the Pink Floyd tradition, complete with saxophone and a roaring Hammond organ. Truly stunning.
Next comes Hallelujah, which starts with a fast jazzy rhythm, ditto bass line and a cool organ arpeggio, of which my first impression was something like "The Doors playing Genesis tunes". Surprisingly original considering the rather regressive nature of the music.
The rest of the album is just as varied. You get your Floyd and Genesis, but then there's also Hendrix style blues rock (The Man), Zappa (Rain Dance) and also a very electronic sounding track (And).
Musically it's all brilliant, but just where did they get that vocalist? This is the classic tale of the prog band that is so focussed on the music that their music is eventually completely destroyed by crap vocals. Vocalist Breen sounds like the vocalist of The Cure, trying to impersonate Bono, Eddie Vedder and Roger Waters at the same time - and that's when his voice is actually endurable! At some other tracks he sounds more like myself, in the shower - Not pretty I assure you. Seldom have I heard a singer sing so incredibly out of tune on a studio recording. Horrible!
In conclusion, what can I say? Fantastic music, destroyed by poor vocals. Their whole attitude towards the music they make is very commendable, and they deserve to be heard. So for people who don't mind a poor vocalist so much, this CD offer a great collection of great music, with a wide variety of styles. People who do care about vocals, had better wait for a re-recording with someone who can sing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Bart Jan van der Vorst