Reviews in this issue:
Neal Morse - Neal Morse
Tracklist: Living Out Loud (4:32), Lost Cause (5:02), Landslide (5:27),
That Which Doesn't Kill Me (4:42), Everything is Wrong (5:03), Nowhere Fast (3:45),
A Whole Nother Trip (Total - 23:58): a. Bomb That Can't Explode (9:03), b. Mr. Upside Down (4:41), c. The Man Who Would Be King (4:22), d. It's Alright (5:52).
Most of you will know that Neal Morse is the brain behind Spock's Beard, writing most of the songs, doing lead vocals and playing keyboards, organ and acoustic guitar to boot. Those of you who have seen 'The Beard' live know that Neal is an enormous entertainer and marvellous front man. Now Neil has released his first untitled solo CD. Another Beardy person who appears on the CD is drummer Nick D'Virgilio, who plays on all but the first track.
Neil described his albums as follows: 'You can expect to hear a wide variety of styles. There's piano oriented pop songs, guitar heavy ones like Tom Petty or something, some Spock's sounding stuff....all in all there's 7 regular songs and one 23:00 long progressive thing called "A Whole Nother Trip." Actually I just said that for people who are listening to the album and haven't heard Spock's Beard....for Spock's Beard fans it won't be a surprise! It's a really cool album, if I do say so myself, and I hope people dig it.'
Living Out Loud has an emphasis on the piano and acoustic guitar.
It sounds a bit like a cross between 'Out on The Edge' and 'Can't Get it Wrong'
from the last Spock's Beard album. Nice sing-along tune.
Lost Cause has a melody line which sounds exactly like Waste Away. Like that track it's a very joyful and energetic song, despite the lyrics ('I used to be a poor man, now I'm really broke ... I'm a loser, I'm a failure'). This track also appeared on the CD Single of Spock's Beard's Skin. Of the first 7 tracks, this is probably the most 'Beardy' one.
Landslide is a quiet song with acoustic guitar and brush drums.
It's got a very nice vocal melody. Love it.
The intro of That Which Doesn't Kill You sounds a bit like the Rolling Stones. It's a rather straightforward rock song in the vein of Crowded House, but a nice one !
Everything is Wrong is a whole different thing. It features a very sad piano melody and sad lyrics.
Nowhere Fast is another joyful pop song which reminds me a bit of
Mary Jane of the album by Arena's guitarist's Urbane album.
Emma is another lovely mid-tempo song with acoustic guitar, strings and lovely lyrics about a childhood friendship.
So far, it's been mostly straightforward rock songs and ballads in the style of Tom Petty/Crowded House. Great stuff nevertheless, and a nice diversion from the more quirky Beard style. But for those of you who fear a full non-prog album, read on !
Now it's time for the big epic A Whole Nother Trip. It starts with
a very Beardy tune called Bomb That Can't Explode which also features a
cello. The first instrumental part reminds me a lot of Gibberish and also
features some growling guitar bits.
After two and a half minutes it goes into a rather The Time Has Come-like part. Whistles, drum loop effects and an organ and guitar solo lead us to a closing section with a different, acoustic arrangement and melody which suddenly crosses into ...
Mr. Upside Down ... headbanging time ! Typical Beard goes Hard Rock track, not unlike Hurt. Great drive ! A very simple but effective one-note guitar riff forms the basis to this track. Lot's of weird computer-effects and snippets of speech form the background.
The Man that Would be King .... Latin time ! The cello melody of the intro of A Whole Nother Trip returns with Flamingo like rhythms and percussion. This part also features a Spanish guitar solo. I bet you can't sit still when this is playing.
It's Alright .... Beatles time ! A slow ballad with vocal overdubs. The intro sounded slightly 'Strawberry Fields'-like. Later on there's a lot of atmospheric vocal overdubs as if you're listening to The Eagles or Crosby Stills Young & Nash. Wonderfully peaceful ending to a marvellous epic and a great album.
This album is bound to become one of my favourites of 1999. It has the Spock's Beard sound we have come to know and love, but it goes beyond that to various musical genres and sounds a whole lot more adventurous than Day for Night. This album ones again proves who's the brain behind Spock's Beard !
Check out the samples at the Radiant Records Web Site.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
John Young - Life Underground (the demos)
Tracklist: All Grown Up (5.08), Closer (4.34), Palmistry (5.27), Wings to Fly (2.12), Last One Home (4.37), Nothing At All (3.30), Imaginery People (5.17), Ivory Tower (6.54), Life Underground (4.14), Reprise (2.24).
John Young, born in Liverpool, is a keyboard player who worked as a session musician with lots of big names like Paul Rodgers, Bonnie Tyler, Steelye Span, Robert Fripp and Steve Hackett. John also played with John Wetton and co-wrote one song for his Battlelines album and six for Arkangel (among which After All, Crime of Passion, Arkangel and All Grown Up).
He has his own band called Oblivious and is working on a solo CD called Life Underground. DPRP received a copy of the demos for this album. About this album John wrote: 'The obvious solo move would be some kind of instrumental based virtuoso CD, but as I've always had this leaning towards purer songwriting I decided it was time to make the jump across to songs rather than self indulgence!'
The CD contains 10 quiet, sometimes almost ballad-like songs with vocals and keyboard as main focus and drums in some of the songs. John is a good keyboard player and his vocals are very nice as well. The feel of some of the songs is very Wetton-ish, as was to be expected.
Some song deserve special notice:
All Grown Up, a song that was also recorded by John Wetton, is a wonderful ballad. Reprise at the end of the CD is another version of the same track.
Last One Home is John's composition which was also used as the basis for John Wetton's Arkangel song.
Ivory Tower, is a real treat with a very quiet enchanting beginning followed by the only real uptempo part of the CD. Unfortunately it ends very strange and abrupt.
The CD is sold through John's (rather dodgy) web site for 10 pounds ($20), which I personally consider to be a bit high for a home made album without inlay and booklet. You might as well wait for the finished version.
I'm looking forward to hearing the finished version, which will also feature an appearance by Marillion's Steve Rothery. Some more varied instruments like guitar (acoustic and electric), bass, saxophone, etc would do the songs a lot off good and make them even better. The lack of these instruments and the fact that they are all quiet songs are the only weaknesses of the demo version of John's album.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
Tom Newman - Faerie Symphony and Other Stories
Tracklist: Feary Symphony (32.04), Sad Sing (2.16), Excerpt from Stonehenge (2.48),
Will you be mine in the morning? (2.55), Excerpt from Concerto de Mango in E Major (2.30),
Day of the Percherons (demo) (2.27), The Soujourn to the Dun of Culann the Smith (6.48),
The Courting of Emer (4.54), Superman (demo) (3.33), Cycle for Moving Dunes (12.40).
Plus Hidden track: Sad Sing (German version) (3:51).
Tom Newman has been around for a long time. In 1970 he met Richard Branson and
formed a partnership to build the Manor studios in Oxford, where he recorded Mike Oldfield's
Tubular Bells, which was released as Virgin Record's first album in 1972. He
(co-)produced other albums like Hergest Ridge, Platinum, Amarok and
Tubular Bells II for Mike Oldfield and also worked as a producer for folks like Cat
Stevens, John Cale, Babylon Zoo and Snowy White.
Besides playing in bands like Tomcats and July in the late 60s, Tom has also been recording his own music since 1975. This album is a compilation of his work, taking songs from Tom's first (1975-77), second (1986-88) and third recording periods (1996-99). All songs on the album were digitally remastered
The long Faerie Symphony, which consists of 13 parts, was actually released as a
an album in 1977. It sounds a lot like Mike Oldfield's 70s epics, but much more
experimental, less melodic and even more folky. The first part of Faerie Symphony,
called The Woods of ... actually features a melody that is almost identical to one
in Oldfield's Ommadawn (1975). Oldfield plays guitar in the Dance of Daoine
Although I am a big fan of Oldfield's instrumental work from the seventies, I think Newman takes it a bit too far. I can't really enjoy listening to some of the drawn-out pieces.
Three vocal tracks originate on Tom's Fine Old Tom album from 1977 (the rest of the album is fully instrumental). Despite the sad lyrics, Sad Sing (again with Mike Oldfield) is actually a very joyful folky track with a catchy melody. Will you be Mine in the Morning ? (strange enough called Will you Bite me in the Morning? on Tom's web site) is a typical folk tune. The demo of Superman is totally different; it's a weird reggea tune ! It therefore sounds rather out of place on this album.
The tracks from this period sound rather outdated and use a lot of conventional folk instruments.
This period in Tom's career was influenced by New Age music. Traces of that influence can be heard in the tracks from that period: Excerpt from Concierto de Mango in E Major (from the 1986 Bayou Moon album), Excerpt from Stonehenge (from the 1986 album Aspects) and Cycle for Moving Dunes (from the 1988 Ozymandias album). These three songs sound more modern and use more synths instead of conventional folk instruments. Especially Cycle ... is a very interesting track and could best be described as a modern Bolero. The track slowly builds on the same melody, all the while increasing in volume and power. The track leans heavily on synths and features Mike Oldfield as well.
The Soujourn to the Dun of Culann the Smith and The Courting of Emer
(both from the 1996 album The Hound of Ulster) are a lot more pleasant to listen to
because of their contemporary sound quality and mixing. They seem to combine the best of the
two previous periods in the music.
Day of the Percherons is a previously unreleased demo with Oldfield on electric
The secret bonus track is a hilarious German version of Sad Sing, recorded live at a Mike Oldfield convention in 1998 and features complete nonsense German words as lyrics.
Some of the music on this album is quite interesting, especially from the two later
recording periods. It does need a while to grow on you. At times it is very Oldfield-ish,
although the Celtic and folk elements are more important than the rock elements and the
music tends to drag a bit.
The booklet is very well done, with nice artwork, a short biography and lyrics for the vocal tracks.
Only recommended for Celtic/folk lovers and die-hard Oldfield fans.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Different Trains - On The Right Track
Tracklist: Birth (0:57), This Is Life (5:13), Bits Of Dust (0:30), Dut In The Wind (5:18), Market Place (0:54), In My House (8:10), Sweet Children (6:14), Class (5:20), To Be Continued... (1:41), Workmen (0:46), Work (5:36), Rain (8:07), The Tired Tide (1:20), Swim Against The Tide (10:05), Cruel Trick (9:39).
The fact that an album has been in circulation for longer than a couple of months has never been a reason to disqualify it for the CD Reviews section of DPRP. A good album is never too old, as we progheads should be all too aware of! I shall therefore treat this album like any other release, although it was released more than five years ago now.
Different Trains is a project around Damon Lewis Shulman, who has written all of the music and lyrics for this album, sings all lead vocals and also plays a multitude of instruments. He is assisted by full band members Mike Payne on drums and percussion, John Rozzell on keyboards and Alan Woods on bass and backing vocals. In addition, the album features Ajay Shukla on bass on some tracks and additional keyboards by Steve Ennever. Lastly, Paul Tasker on saxophone and Adrian Fry on trombone make appearances on the last track Cruel Trick.
The opening track of the album, Birth, is a short instrumental, very much like the short piece of music that opens Pink Floyd's The Wall, just before In The Flesh kicks in. This Is Life is very much a neo-prog track, such as bands like Summer Indoors use to make. It features a lot of keyboard strings that are all too much indication of that particular type of songs and I'm not too fond of those...
A bit of text spoken in a silly way is all that Bits Of Dust is, and it's no more than a prelude to the fourth of the track of the album, Dust In The Wind. This is a really great track, with a very depressing lyric. During the more quiet parts Shulman's voice reminds me a bit of Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson. The refrain features some great guitar playing, in the Rothery style, a style he perfected on Afraid of Sunlight which had yet to come out a year later!
Market Place is another short in-between track, just like Bits Of Dust merely a prelude to the following track, In My House. Again a very Marillionesque track, largely due to Shulman's guitar sound. Sweet Children has a very poppy feel to it, despite the atmospheric intro. The last part of the song could have been a King Crimson improvisation, though.
To Be Continued... is a very orchestral instrumental and is followed by Workmen, another prelude-track. When I first heard Work I thought I was listening to a motown record from the seventies. Very jazzy, it even features (sampled) trumpets!
Rain is one of the very few tracks of the album to feature an extended electric guitar solo, and is therefore one of my favourites. The music needs a kick in its ass (pardon my french) sometimes and a goof guitar solo can do the trick.
Swim Against The Tide is a eight minute monologue followed by two minutes King Crimsonic improvisation. I can accept that Shulman has a statement to make but I think it would have sufficed to include it in the CD booklet alone, because I find myself skipping this track after two listens.
With its nine plus minutes, closer Cruel Trick is the second longest track on the album. This has some of the energy that Spock's Beard is famous for, but it's more straightforward than today's premier live band. The song fades out after five minutes, followed by piece of music that could have been played on a medieval market. Flutes and light percussion.
On The Right Track is not a very coherent album, it incorporates too many styles for that. Also the prelude/interlude tracks more disrupt the flow of the album than enhance it. Having said that, some of the material is very good, and the production of the album is crystal clear. The drum sound especially is excellent, and it's more often than not that the drum sound of prog albums is lousy at best.
Final mark is a seven, which would have been higher with greater cohesion and originality. But as the band say in their booklet: We are developing presently but feel we are on the right track.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Inner Resonance - Solar Voices
Tracklist: Icarus (3:31), Winter's Dawn (5:09), One More Summer (9:12), Ember (4:30), Wanderlust (3:54), Solar Wind (5:01), Desire to Believe (6:53), Open Eyes (4:13), Broken Stone (6:59), The Drum (9.58)
Although they present themselves as a band, in fact Inner Resonance consists of two people, Jeffrey Ryan Smoots on guitar, keys, bass, drums and backing vocals and Peter Orullian on vocals and keyboards. Normally, this means that the music is either very keyboard or guitar dominated, but Inner Resonance succeeds in finding the balance in their instruments. The CD itself is also quite balanced with respect to song structure (heavy and easy) and is truly progressive in nature, Egdon Heath meets Rush. Influences of Queensryche and Dream Theatre are also present on the album. One minus: the vocals are not always completely in tune especially in the high-pitched parts (although Peter has won the Private Eye Best Male Vocalist Award) and this screws up some of the best parts on the album.
The album opens with the very driving Icarus, a song with a very strong melodic line, a bit like the album Nebula of Egdon Heath. This is already the highlight of the album for me, a bit unusual to find the climax on the start of the album. Winter's Dawn is a more elaborate composition with a nice difference between heavy and more mellow parts. One of the two "epics" (as apparently all 8+ minute tracks are called in press releases) is One More Summer. It is clear that the guys of Inner Resonance are more at ease in these long pieces, since the compositions are truly elaborate, with really heavy parts and really nice melodic lines. In the low parts the vocals are quite effective and theatrical but in the higher regime they get really irritating and screamish.
Ember is an almost 60's ballad-like guitar-vocal song. Nice, but nothing special. Wanderlust is a powerful instrumental opening with a 7/8-6/8 melody and is the second highlight of the album (if only because you don't have the vocals here). A piece heavily based in classical music. Solar Wind is more meanstream. A standard prog-song. Desire to Believe has a driving rhythm but is nothing special. At this point the CD that started so strongly has more or less collapsed for the listener. Somehow the songs at this point just aren't interesting. The opening of Open Eyes, very delicate and mellow comes as a relieve. A nice keyboard-based ballad.
A more technology based opening of Broken Stone: Dream Theatre is the first thing that comes to mind here. The rest of the song lives up to this expectation, but the total composition is rather dull.
The Drum opens with a beautiful piano/electric guitar melody, really well done, lots of melodic and rhythmic changes and breaks: prog at its best. As soon as the vocal melody starts, the composition falls down, with some interesting parts, but the general picture becomes untrackable.
All in all this was a difficult CD to judge. Parts are spine-chiveringly brilliant, others are quite bad. Like I said a couple of times: the vocals are horrible in some places. So the average of brilliant and bad leaves us with the:
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Sonic Debris - Sonic Debris
Tracklist:New Horizon (3:40), Virtual Steps (3:57), Dead Man (5:14), Aching Pain (5:42)
Wow! What a vocalist! That is the main impression I get from this demo-CD of Norwegian band Sonic Debris. Musically, they range from Saga to Rush and sometimes even a hint of Queensryche.
The vocalist Rune Sørheim sounds like all the great: ranging from a typical Saga
sound in the first song to U2's Bono in the others. A true promise for the young
prog-scene, where good vocalists are rare. The first song, New Horizon could be a
Saga tune, well composed but not too complex, apart from the Rush-like intro.
Virtual Steps has some interesting breaks in it, reminding a bit of Dream Theatre or even Faith no More.
In general, the songs on this album sound very familiar, a lot of links with the above mentioned bands, as well as King Crimson can be made, yet fresh and original. It surprises me they do not quote Saga and U2 as influences themselves, since for instance Aching Pain is very U2-ish, and even the Simple Minds come to mind! But perhaps this was left as an exercise for the reviewer ;-). Some weird psychedelic sounds end the demo (hurray, a non-listed bonus track).
I sincerely hope they are able to produce a complete album with material like this, this is really worthwhile. Not your mega-complex bombastic sympho, but very well produced mainstream rock with a progressive edge. In February/March 2000 the full length CD should come out, so stay tuned!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.