Reviews in this issue:
Mythos - The Reality Of A Dreamer
I recentely read the following line on the back-cover of a CD: "Blending sounds that are purely human and organic (soaring vocals, piano and guitar) with foundations and atmosphere from the age of the synthesizer, The Reality Of A Dreamer offers a provocative, beautifully textured instrumental/vocal combination of Classical, Jazz and Pop influences." That proved more than enough to get my attention. Could this be something like Prog Pop?
Well not really. The album in question, The Reality of a Dreamer, by the Canadian twosome Mythos, can best be labelled as a combination of elements from Dance, Ambient and World Music, though that is a term even harder to define than Progressive Rock. The music is comparable to projects like Deep Forest, Marcomé and Paul Shanti and might appeal to fans of Enya, Adiemus and Era. But through its close relation to prog (some even label Ambient the most deceptively simple form of Progressive Music) this warrants a closer look.
Mythos is the Canadian duo Paul Schmidt (guitar) and Bob D'Eith (piano and keyboards). Most tracks feature additional musicians, on bass (Rene Worst) and percussion (Frank Baker), while Christine Duncan and Jennifer Scott add vocals. An earlier album was the self-titled Mythos, which apparentely recieved a lot of critical acclaim. This new album adheres closely to the formula of that success.
The most important elements in this formula are Spanish guitar, melodious piano and wordless female vocals. Add to this keyboards and programmed dance and drum-beats and the mix is nearly complete. The additional musicians play only a token role. The first track, Alchemy, is a good example, with its captivating Spanish guitar and floating piano and keyboards parts. This is basically the exploration of a simple theme, guitar and piano alternating in the foreground. This description of the instrumental section fits most tracks. What is added are the vocal harmonies, mostly programmed percussion and, at times, dance beats.
The drum computer might have been better replaced by an actual performer, which could have been easily established as a percussionist was involved in the making of this album. This neglect, if I may term it thus, leads to often dissapointing results, devalueing some tracks, like Kaleidoscope. The effect of late build-ups on synths and good use of the vocal perfomances can instead lift up rather basic tracks like Venice.
In Vision I the musical duo explores a dance beat with the now familiar combination of wordless vocals and alternating piano and guitar. Then with Solstice it crosses something of a threshold. It was all starting to become too familiar, too comfortable. It seemed too easy to keep developing these very identical themes and the underlying dance beats had by now lost their appeal. Thankfully the instrumental ballad Fantasy provides a subtle resting point, basically a piano solo with the feel of a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer or James Horner. This track was conceived and performed solely by Bob D'Eith, while Reveries, obviously classically inspired, is as much a solo outing for Paul Schmidt on guitar. At 1.29 minutes far too short to be of importance on the whole.
With Destiny, The Ring and Redemption the Canadians return to more familiar territory. Too much like the previous material, these songs add nothing to distinguish them from the first half of the album. The closer Vision II is indeed a return to the melody of Vision I, but the wordless vocal chorus is replaced by Christine Duncan's lyrical performance, though it's a repetition of a few simple lines three times. A nice touch to end the album on, as this is the sole distinguishing mark of the last three tracks of the CD.
Standout on this album is Paul Schmidt's performance on Spanish guitar. Small wonder he has already released an album centered on the instrument. The wordless female vocals add another nice touch and are better than most performances in the World Music genre. Piano is subtle and captivating and adds a fine solo in Fantasy, but keyboards are dissapointing. Worse is the incessant drum computer, though the occasional added percussion makes up for the lack of imagination in its use. The CD has fine production value, that I would even label a bit too slick.
The short length of tracks prohibits a complex exploration of themes and melodies, which is a shame and might have pushed this more towards prog. In the end The Reality of a Dreamer turned out more thinly related to prog than I had hoped, though the mixtures of styles tends to point in that direction. Fine in its own right and an good addition to its genre, this is not quite my cup of tea, though some tracks, after a little tinkering, could have done well on the first half of Peter Gabriel's latest OVO. A final appreciative word must ultimately go to the marketing people for a job well done on the above quoted sales pitch.
Those who are really intrested might check out the Mythos Experience website to learn how the combination of meditation, visual imagery and the music of Mythos relieves everyday tension and stress!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
The Attack of the Dragons
A Tribute to Queen
Adrenaline Records is a relatively new Italian record label. The label specializes in bands from the hard rock and prog metal genre. The label has invented an interesting new way to promote some of their bands; the cover compilation album. Among the 16 titles that the label has released so far you'll find tribute albums to Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, Metallica, Queensryche, U2 and Queen. Most of these tributes come as 2CD digi-packs at a very reasonable price of 1 CD. One of the two CDs will contain the cover versions while the other CD contains own compositions by the performing bands. In other words, you get the band sampler for free when you buy the tribute album.
We received the tribute CD of the Queens package from Adrenaline Records. It features 12 Queen songs played by bands from USA, Italy, Spain and Germany. Some of the songs stay very close to the original, while others take the songs in playful new directions. Overall the album is made by rock bands and therefore does not contain some of those dreadful alternative & industrial versions that can be found on so many other tribute albums.
Season of the Wolf, a progressive/gothic/new age metal (!) band from Florida (USA), has taken the
uptempo version of We Will Rock You, as Queen used to play it live in the Seventies and
which can be found on their 'Live Killers' album. Their interpretation also features a nice
synth/piano intro, which flows into the typical drum rhythm before the song kicks off full speed.
The vocalist reminds me a lot of that small guy of Accept or the singer in Judas
Priest. Interesting kick-ass version.
Killer Queen by Evil Wings (Italy) is well played but stays very close to the original. The most remarkable thing is the abscense of the normally present thick Italian accent in the singer's voice. An accent can however be discovered in the version of Save Me by Avalanch from Spain. Nevertheless, it's not reeally disturbing in this guitar-heavy riffy version.
Now I'm Here by the Jesse Jones Project (USA) sounds a bit like Extreme doing
Aztec Jade's (USA) version of The Show Must Go On is again close to the original (DPRP will be reviewing the debut album by this melodic prog metal band soon).
Singer/songwriter Marci Geller (a lady from the USA) has made a nice jazzy version of You're My Best
Friend, complete with brass section and her warm vocals.
Hotrod Otis (USA) has created an interesting new version of Another One Bites The Dust, which has a very funky feel and even includes a slap bass solo, human beatbox and rap section !
Innuendo by Italian prog metal band Vighilia gets the prog metal approach with heavy guitars, female vocals and double bass drum. The use of computer percussion (handclaps)/drums in some sections doesn't really appeal to me and the other drums sound a bit too dry and flat for my taste. It's a shame because the rest of the song isn't that bad.
'The Game' is my favourite Queen album and I'm therefore glad that no less than 3 songs from that
album have been used on this tribute CD. Dragon Attack by Graffitti Circus (USA) is one
of them. Seemingly the band is known for its jam sessions, of which one has been incorporated in
this groovy Queen track, which sounds like Scatman was behind the mike.
Fat Bottom Girls by The Last Band on Earth (USA) misses the power of the original and the Dragon Attack riff that has been woven into this track cannot save this version from sounding a bit amateuristic. The whole thing sounds like ZZ Top on a bad day.
Spead Mind's (Italy) version of One Vision doesn't sound very convincing either, to say the least. It's probably the weakest song on the CD. Especially the attempts of the vocalist, who's vocals are doubtful to begin with, to recreate Freddie Mercury's vocal extravaganza bring tears to the eyes. The band has tried to show off during the jam section but completely fail to impress.
Maybebop (Germany) have made the brave effort of trying to make a decent cover version of Bohemian Rhapsody. And guess what ? They have succeeded brialliantly by taking the fully acapella approach with some band members doing the dooh da ding ding's in abscence of the instruments, and I have to say it sounds amazing. All instruments (including guitar solos) have been replaced by singing voices. Marvellous and extremely funny (in a positive way) at the same time !
Overall this is a nice collection of classic Queen songs in (mainly) well played renditions. Some more adventurous than others, but all with respect for the original performers and versions. Something to check out for Queen fans that don't consider cover versions blasphemy.
For some samples, visit CD Baby.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Snowy White - Pure Gold
The Solo Years 1983-98
Snowy White probably isn't a stranger to fans of Pink Floyd. In 1977 Snowy was asked to join the
band as second guitarist/bass player on their big In The Flesh stadium tour during which
the full 'Animals' and 'Wish You Were Here' albums were performed live for the first time. Later Snowy
also joined the band for part of their tour for 'The Wall', while 1990 found Snowy playing the same
songs again in Berlin with Roger Waters. Snowy also played guitar on Floyd's keyboard player Rick Wright's
first solo album and more recently he toured with Roger Waters in the US (1999 & 2000). Currently
he's working with Roger Waters on the new album of this ex-Floyd frontman.
But Snowy's much more than a Pink Floyd session player. He's also played with Al Stewart, Peter Green (ex-Fleetwood Mac), Mick Taylor (ex-Roling Stones) and Thin Lizzy. Besides that he released no less than seven solo albums plus two albums with his band Snowy White's Blues Agency. In 1983 he had a big hit with the song Bird of Paradise.
In 1995 a compilation album of Snowy's solo and session work was released under the name Gold Top, four years later in 1999 a second compilation album album was released. This album, Pure Gold focussed on Snowy's solo work. As was to be expected, there's a certain overlap between the two albums, but fortunately no more than 3 songs appear on both CDs.
Pure Gold contains 15 tracks of Snowy's solo career (not including the Blues Agency material),
spanning over 15 years. One of the most remarkable things is that this compilation is not a
perfect representation of Snowy's work. Seemingly intentionally, material from his second and
third album (Land of Freedom and That Certain Thing) are missing, even though
they contained some minor hits like Peace on Earth and For You. I assume that they
are not featured because on one hand they contain more pop oriented songs whereas Snowy's other
albums are more blues rock oriented, while on the other hand Snowy doesn't really seem to like
the material on these albums very much. He claims that he was under too much pressure to write
another hit single.
As a result, the album features 3 tracks from his debut album 'White Flames' (1984), two songs from 'Highway to the Sun' (1993), two songs from 'No Faith Required' (1996) and one song from 'Little Wing'. Most interestingly for the Snowy White fans though, besides three previously unreleased tracks from 1986 and 1987 (Someone Else is Gonna Love Me, Only Woman and Birthday Blues) are 4 rare tracks that have only been released as b-sides of singles or as EP track (Good Question, Snow Blues, Rush Hour and All My Money).
The music on this compilation album can best be described as blues oriented rock, although the
songs range from straightforward blues instrumentals to songs that would not have been out of place
on a Dire Straits album.
Among the most notable tracks are of course the ballad hit single Bird of Paradise, the uptempo Highway to the Sun with Chirs Rea on slide guitar (unfortunately in a shorter single edit), the moody Love Pain and Sorrow with David Gilmour on lead guitar and Snowy's rant against religion, the powerful In The Name of the Lord.
But also the rest of the tracks are well worth checking out. Midnight Blues and Snow Blues are wonderful atmospheric slow blues tracks. Birthday Blues is a nice guitar & bass only blues improvisation. Good Question would not have been out of place on David Gilmour's first solo album while Open Carefully is a typical early 80s riffy keyboard & guitar driven uptempo instrumental that flows into the mid-tempo atmospheric At The Crossroads.
Someone Else is Gonna Love You starts as a rather poppy track but turns into a great rocking jam halfway through. Only Woman and The More You Live are nice rocking toe-tappers as well (the latter with Snowy's great Dutch-Indonesian rhythm section Juan and Walter).
The only slight problem I have with this album is the choice of songs. As mentioned, it does not give
a 100% representative view on Snowy's career. I wouldn't have minded if tracks like the chaotic
high speed Rush Hour jam or the guitar-bass-beatbox All My Money would have been replaced by some more songs from Snowy's second and third
albums. Okay, they were very 'poppy' but there were some nice gems among the tracks.
On the other hand, it's nice to have some of the unreleased and rare tracks on the CD; in the 80s they were often better than the material that ended up on the albums.
The booklet is only a 4-page thingy, but it does come with extensive liner notes about Snowy's career and the individual line-up for every track.
This album comes recommended to all prog fans that like good blues rock, as well as people who like a good starting point to check out Snowy White's solo material. Besides that, the CD was mid-priced when I bought it, and that's a great deal for 75+ minutes of fine music !
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Epicentro - Senza Scuorno, Senza Paura
Epicentro is the name of a musical project, which was founded in 1997 when the two
Italians Giacomo Ciavatta (piano, guitar, compositions) and Carmine Vesuvio (drums and
arrangements) started playing together. In their biography, they list their musical
influences as "classical (Bach, Mozart and 20th century Authors),
soundtracks for movies (N. Rota, Ennio Morricone), prog-rock (Rush,
Gong, King Crimson and Italian 70s bands), world music and experimental
music (Frank Zappa, Voivod and others)." Most of these influences are
hard to spot, in my opinion, although I must admit to not knowing all of the
musicians and bands listed above. However, the more chaotic elements of King Crimson
and Frank Zappa are very clearly present in the music of these two Italians.
The music is based on the way music is typically played in the Mediterranean, especially where Ciavatta and Vesuvio live, namely in Naples in the South of Italy. Rather than using the instruments associated with that music though, Epicentro have chosen to use the equipment of a rock musician.
In the studio, Epicentro are sometimes assisted by some other musicians. On their debut CD, Senza Scuorno, Senza Paura, Luigi Salerno played contrabass and on 'A Fine D'A Streppegna they used the voice of Enrica Di Martino.
Both CDs are built around the same main character Pullecenella, the figure known as "Punchinello" (or "Punch", as in "Punch and Judy") in English. Furthermore, both albums are "concept" albums (according to the band). The story lines are pretty hard to follow though, since there are no vocals on either album save some spoken words (in Italian) in the sound fragments from TV and radio which they have used. Reading the track titles did not help me, for one, very much either, since my knowledge of the Italian language is virtually non-existent. So I contacted the band and asked them what the titles of both albums and songs meant. The guys were nice enough to provide me with some translations and some insights in what they meant to say with the titles, and that did shed some light on the matter (although I must stress that some of the things written below about the stories behind the CDs are my own interpretation).
Senza Scuorno, Senza Paura means "Without Shame, Without Fear". For Epicentro, Pullecenella stands for "the renegade culture" and "broken traditions". In the story, told by music and sound fragments only, it becomes obvious that he is proud of those traditions and without fear of the consequences of keeping to them. Some traditional elements return in the track titles, for instance in Tammorriata, which is a dance originating in the south of Italy, and in Menadi Danzanti - "Dancing Maenads", wild women very much like the Bacchantes from Greek mythology. The other track titles describe what Pullecenella is going through. He (or rather, what he stands for) gets crucified in track 3, Pullecenella 'N Croce, walks through a lane in Ò Vico, encounters a summer storm in Trupea 'E Calore and finally gets resurrected in 'A Resurrezione 'E Pullecenella, which leaves him without shame and without fear. Track 1 and 9 are linked both by their respective titles, Punctum Contra... and ...Punctum (referring to the musical concept of "counterpoint") and the same length, 1:59 minutes. Apart from that, they sound almost the same.
"The End Of The Weed" is the translation of the title of the second CD, 'A Fine D'A Streppegna. "Streppegna", however, is an ancient Neapolitan word which can also be translated metaphorically as "the wicked" or "the bad seed". On this CD, Pullecenella escapes from his prison (he can be seen forcing the bars of his prison cell apart on the cover of Senza...) and enters the city of Naples to seek revenge. He walks through 'O Buvero, the name of a real lane of Naples ("a bad place", according to Epicentro), encounters a marching band in Sarabanda (the name of an ancient dance, but "banda" also means marching music in Italian), tries La Vendemmia Di Euterpe (which means "Euterpe's Vintage"), watches the (existing) TV show Per Sole 100000 Lire, ponders on L'Anagramma Di Giubileo - "Jubilee's Anagram" - and experiences the "blessings" of modern communication in Linee Libere ("Free (Phone) Lines". Upon all this, he concludes that there is no place for him in this chaotic world outside his prison (note the analogy with the story of IQ's Subterranea) in Anema, Core E Cazzimma ("Soul, Heart And Spite"). Finally, Pullecenella ends up on Pithecu (Latin name of Ischia, one of the islands near Naples).
So, what about the music then? Well, that covers quite a lot of different styles. From
almost religious hymns (track 1 and 9 on Senza...) to free jazz/fusion à la Zappa,
from heavy 70s rock to chaotic songs in which every musician seems to be playing his own
thing in a soundproof cell (very much like some of Crimson's more experimental work),
and from esoteric (first part of track 7 on Senza...) to stuff verging on grunge.
There is even some classical guitar music on the second CD (beginning of track 1 and track 3).
Both CDs are characterised by the use of a very raw guitar sound, which seldomly varies in timbre, which, quite frankly, started to bug me after some time. The drum sound is very "dry" and 70s-like, while the contrabass (played both with fingers and using a bow) adds an interesting element to the music. Epicentro tried to compensate the absence of lyrics and proper vocals by the use of many sound fragments, mostly taken from TV and radio programmes, but also sounds of traffic, people on the street and waves breaking on a beach. With these elements, they have managed to create what would resemble an abstract painting in the two-dimensional plane.
The songs often move from being very melodic to utterly chaotic. In many tracks one can hear a cacophony of guitar, drums and bass made into even more of a jumble by the sound fragments. I must admit that the chaotic tracks do help to tell the story, but I would rather skip them, since I am basically into more melodic music.
The concept is harder to follow on the first CD than on the second one. On 'A Fine... the collages of sound fragments enable the listener to really hear Pullecenella walk through the city of Naples. He is constantly passing open windows through which he hears the sound of different TV channels, radio stations, CDs, and conversations coming from each room.
At the moment, neither of these two CDs is for sale, as Epicentro are still looking for a record company to bring out their work. That does not mean that you cannot get a flavour of what their music is like, though; anyone interested can download sound files from their songs on the Epicentro website.
Epicentro's music is not really my cup of tea. There are some bits and pieces that I quite like, but the chaotic atmosphere which most tracks have, just does not work for me. The idea behind these two CDs is interesting though, and I think that fans of for instance King Crimson and Frank Zappa (in their more experimental moments) will definitely be able to appreciate this music. I feel that it would also be an advantage if you understand Italian, because I think I missed some more or less important elements of the story line since I could not understand what was being said in the sound fragments.
Conclusion Senza Scuorno, Senza Paura: 6 out of 10.
Conclusion 'A Fine D'A Streppegna: 6 out of 10.
Taurus - Evolution
Taurus is (or better: was) a Dutch band in the 1970's, who produced a handful of albums. Now there is a CD release collecting tracks from their late 70's, early '80's albums, called 'Evolution'.
As the web site of the Dutch Popinstitute tells me: "Dutch symphonic rock band from Haarlem, with a good live-reputation and a group of fanatic followers in the early eighties, but without any commercial success." OK, so we know that now.
The first thing that is striking is the bad production, a defect of the by now old mastertapes, I'm sure. The album opens stong,
with a nice piano piece, followed by a Camel/Kayak like track called The Boatman. This style continues until Barbara,
a simple classical guitar piece. By the time we come to Undiscovered, the style is obvious and the antique sound becomes
a bit annoying. Survival has some nice guitar work, but is hardly a superb composition. La Croze has a bit the feel of
From Always Be Around onwards, the album collapses completely with a couple of pop songs (Always Be Around, So Long Cristi-Ann [was this a minor hit in 1985 ? It does seem very familiar] and Friends for Life [appeared on the same single]), an instrumental that is worse than elevator music (On A Journey), amateur poprock (Hangin' 'Round) and a Michael Jackson '80's track (Come To Yourself), composed by the recently deceased J.P. Philippo.
It is obvious their oldest work is the most attractive to the progressive rock lover, although even there the compositions aren't that stunning that they are a must-have. Due to the really bad production, and the absolutely dreadful second half of the album, I cannot go higher than a 6. Call me ignorant or whatever, but in my opinion this one is for prog-history freaks only.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
The story of the Seventies French jazz rock band Pataphonie can be summed up in a nutshell. Three longtime friends, André Viaud (guitars), Gilles Rousseau (drums and percussion) and Pierre Demouron (bass and contrabass), set up Pataphonie around 1973. The Pole records label issued a self-titled LP covering their early period, while their only real studio album, Le Matin Blanc, was recorded in just four days in 1978. Then in 1980 they split up.
Though they evidentely never made any waves, Musea Records has seen fit to rerelease the studio album with the labels standard addition of rare and live bonus tracks. Le Matin Blanc is an entirely instrumental piece, combining slightly proggy rock with free-style jazz in somewhat disturbing melodies with a psychedelic atmosphere. Add to this the influence of an admiration for contemporary classical composers like Bartok and Satie and you've got a sound that's been compared to bands like Gong and Magma.
Though you'd expect a lot of extended free-wheeling on instruments, the interaction between the players is actually stylishly maintained in clear structures. These songs do have their fair amount of twanging and sliding on electric guitar, the unmistakably jazz-oriented chaotic drums and percussion and some good overriding bass tunes. In this sometimes superficially messy whole some good melodies and inventive effects shine through, that argueably steer towards Space Fusion. Nevertheless on first hearing this, you might feel it's a bit 'crowded' and in this sense it shows structural as well as musical parables with King Crimson. This is especially true of the added 'new' material, notably the live track Mémoire Baroque, while in the actual six-piece Le Matin Blanc, Pataphonie's sound is closer to the late sixties and early seventies Pink Floyd.
I did find the album ultimately boring. Slight use of contrabass, as on the short title piece, or samples doesn't go far to relieve this feeling. The four live registrations included, from a May 4th 1980 concert, as well as the short track Mandoline Station, unpublished before, hardly add favourably in the equation. The live versions of Rue Alice and Kerouac add nothing to the studio versions, except some welcome energy, most notably on drums. In that sense they're slightly better and more accessible.
While in the end a lot of this material sounds too alike for my taste, it never ceases to amaze me what an imaginative, compact sound can be accomplished by such a small ensemble, with only guitar, bass and drums as their tools. But the classification of uniqueness or originality that Musea would award to this album eludes me. To make some additional references to that most famous contemporary, this LP was released eight years after A Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother in a time in which Pink Floyd had long reached the limit of their endeavours in psychedelics and had moved on to Dark Side of the Moon and Animals. In this sense you could label Pataphonie a retro band!
In my humble opinion Musea Records is indeed to be applauded for (re)releasing rare and often intresting material from either the present or from by-gone days. The inclusion of live or unpublished material often adds to the value of these products. But more often than not you have to sort through a lot of mediocre stuff to find the real gems. Pataphonie isn't one of those. For interested Seventies and psychedelic fans only.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.