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Reviews in this issue:
NDV (Nick D'Virgilio) - Karma
Most of you proggers probably only know Nick D'Virgilio as the drummer of Spock's
Beard and session drummer for Genesis after Mr. Collins left that band. Still, there's much more on this guy's CV than you might have imagined. Nick worked
with Tears for Fears, Peter Gabriel, Kevin Gilbert and Sheryl Crow to name a few (check out
Nick's resume on the NDV Music website for more details).
On his first solo album, released under the name NDV, Nick plays drums & percussion, acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards, piano, bass and to top it off he does vocals on all tracks. Now, we all know that Nick is one hell of a drummer, and there's plenty of amazing drums and percussion to keep you happy, without it ever becoming a drummer-solo-ego-tripping kinda thing. The real revelation on this record however is Nick's singing. I always thought he did pretty well on the Squonk encore during Spock's Beard gigs, but the range and styles Nick performs on Karma are really impressive. He's got a very enjoyable voice that suits many different styles.
Some of the songs are a 100% solo performance (Come What May, Untitled, Anything), while
on others Nick gets a helping hand from some good friends, among whom several guys from
Spock's Beard and Beer for Dolphins (of whom we recently reviewed their Dancing album). Nick met the latter when playing with Kevin Gilbert on Genesis and Yes tribute albums.
Mike Keneally (of Beer for Dolphins) plays guitar on The River is Wide, Dream in Red and The Waters Edge. Rick Mussallam (Beer for Dolphins) handles the same instrument on all parts of Paying The Price, Forgiven, The Game and Will It Be Me. Bryan Bellar (Beer for Dolphins) plays bass on Dream in Red and The River is Wide. Dave Carpenter takes over bass duties on Dysfunction, Forgiven and Will It Be Me.
Spock's Beard buddy Alan Morse can be heard on cello on The Waters Edge and guitar on Paid the Price. Spock's Beard keyboard maniac Ryo Okumoto plays piano on Will It Be Me while Mike Johnson plays wurlitzer on The Waters Edge and Peter Plumeri provides backing vocals on Karma.
A very special guest appearance is Kevin Gilbert, who plays piano and 12 string guitar on The Game. The music for The Game was originally written by Kevin, who died 5 years ago. Nick kept the original parts Kevin played and added lyrics and extra instruments.
Neal wrote all of the songs by himself, with the exception of three. The Waters Edge was written together with Will Sexton, while The Game was co-written with Kevin Gilbert and Come What May was written long ago by Kevin Gilbert and David Baerwald. By coincidence, a (very different) version of Come What May is also present on the soundtrack of the 'Moulin Rouge' movie, performed by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
Those who expect another Spock's Beard-like record in the Neal Morse way will be highly surprised to find only one track that is remotely Beardish; the quirky parts of the album opener The River is Wild are the only moments on the records that made me think of Nick's main band, whereas most of the rest of the song is not like The Beard at all. The only other really proggy tracks on the album is the three-piece epic Paying The Price and perhaps the instrumental Untitled.
There are many different types of songs and styles on the record, making up a very enjoyable blend. For instance, the pop ballads Come What May and Will It Be Me have a distinctive Eagles or Billy Joel sound, while Untitled reminds me of some of the instrumentals by Genesis (for instance The Brazilian (rhythm-wise) or some of the instrumentals on Wind & Wuthering).
Dream in Red is a wonderful jazzy/groovy track with great vocal melody hooks, while Forgiven, The Game and Anything are good solid rock songs. The start of dysfunction sounds very Gabrielesque, and I immediately found myself singing along 'Jeuxs sans frontiers !'.
My absolute favourite on the album is The Waters Edge. After some 40 seconds of weird effects, you're treated to a very emotional ballad with piano and the occassional guitar crying in the background. The feel is comparable to Art Garfunkel's Bright Eyes. Then suddenly, halfway through the song the whole band kicks in with a tune that is driven by an almost marching rhythm of drums, bass and cello. A powerful vocal section with a great sing-along chorus follows. The last half minute brings a reprise of the opening ballad. One of the best pop rock songs I've heard in a long time.
Karma is full of floor tom overbuds, so it sounds like there's a whole bunch of tom players going at it. The same goes for the backing vocals. The track also features sampled and processed thrashcan lids ! How's that for a vocal/percussion-only experiment ?
The three parts that form Paying the Price tell the story of two kids growing up in
two dysfunctional households and how they meet and sort of 'heal each other'. As mentioned, it
starts with a very Gabrielesque (world) rhythm section full of programmed stuff. After the vocal section of Dysfunction the whole band kicks in with a different riffy in-your-face rock section, immediately followed by a variation on the closing track Untitled.
The second section of the epic, Paid the Price, starts as a much more straightforward rock song, but halfway through crosses over in a very laid back bluesy section with Al Morse on guitar. Then, for the last minute the tension builds and after a reprise of the vocal section the song merges into Unknowing, which is one of the most experimental things on the album. It's a very funky thing with lots of wah-wah guitar and groovy bass; think of Fish' Digging Deep from Plague of Ghosts. Besides some nice vocal sections it also contains a repeated chanting bit ('when there's a time of unknowing, move ahead, hold on'). This chant is continued through the guitar solo while the song breaks down until only drums and vocals remain and the song fades out. Great stuff !
Although Untitled is said to be almost 9 minutes long, it's actually just 6 minutes. After some silence a short secret track with a jam frenzy (played spontaneously during the recording sessions) can be heard. Personally I've heard too much of these secret tracks, and as with others it loses it's 'fun value' after hearing it two or three times.
All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by Nick's album, and this will definitely become
one of my favourites of 2001. It will appeal most to other people who - like me - like
innovative pop rock albums with blends of styles and the occassional proggy elements thrown
in for good measure. As a matter of fact, I enjoy this record a lot more than the forced
'we have to write 15+ minute tracks' on the recent Spock's Beard and Transatlantic albums.
Therefore, I wouldn't mind Nick having a bigger participation in the writing process of Spock's Beard songs. It might create something fresh for a change ....
Best tracks: The River is Wide, I Dream in Red, The Water's Edge and Paying The Price.
Oh ... just one very minor complaint. Why did Nick shave his head ? Not only does it make him look less like the sympathetic guy he is, but it also makes the album cover less representative for the kind of music you'll find on Karma. Oh well, I guess I'll just avoid looking at it while enjoying this wonderful record.
The River is Wide starts with acoustic guitars, not unlike Led Zeppelin, soon to be 'overruled' by delicious heavy riffs, not unlike recent Rush, before the vocals come in, not unlike Red Hot Chili Peppers. Do you get the picture? NDV, as d'Virgilio calls himself for this occasion draws from a wide range of influences. In the case of The River is Wide it results in an interesting track with many twists and turns. One of the best.
Dream in Red is a more easy-going song with a bluesy feel to it. D'Virgilio's voice has many sounds and characters, as a big room with many corners. In this track he is in a desperate mood.
Darker and more threatening than on the previous song, NDV's vocal echoes the spirit of Michael Hutchence (INXS) in Forgiven, a heavy and fast song. In case you'd forgotten by this time that this man's a drummer… you'll remember here!
Exotic drums (tablas or bongos?) are the basic instrument for Karma, the title track. Difficult to describe this track, it's exotic and original. It's probably too outspoken to be everyone's favorite track, but it certainly is an 'ear-catcher'.
The Game is a 'groovy ballad' (is there such thing?) with a big, warm sound, mostly as result of the piano in this track. It builds towards a very emotional chorus, with d'Virgilio singing at the top of his voice. And a high top it is!
Very fragile and emotional is the piano-vocal first part of The Waters Edge. Although completely contrasting with the hard edge of songs like Forgiven and The River is Wide, this song isn't out of place at all. The second part has a distant 'Beatlesque' feeling to it with a repetitive sing-a-long chorus to it. The end sends shivers down my spine.
Come What May also has a piano-vocal approach, but much more in a singer-songwriter way. A slow ballad with a blues-feel to it -drums played with brushes- and again an extraordinary vocal performance.
With Untitled we're back at the more ferocious side of NDV's musical range. Loops and guitar-solo lead to a heavier riff, central to this instrumental.
Will It Be Me is another slow song just at the time that I liked the return to the harder sound. Personally I don't consider this the most original song on the album, despite the nice harmonies and the guitar-solo.
In Anything NDV returns with a more aggressive vocal-part. Despite the steady pace of the track, it still has an edge. Great drums as well! The end is quite loud.
Paying The Price comes as a three-pack: three different songs, combining to one Opus Magnum of this album. Dysfunction is a bit jazzy, with a gentle bass. At about three minutes electric guitars and drums come in and from there on the whole thing is a big adventure. The string of the three songs has different elements in it, from more jam-session-like parts to more thoroughly elaborated parts with a high production-level. The chorus in the middle track Paying The Price again reminds me of Red Hot Chili Peppers. The last part of the album is the longest track Unknowing. It features a great on-going bass-line, which is only interrupted in the choruses. The changes in the music could make you think it's progressive music. And maybe it is. The drums towards the end (before the surprise-bit) are simply awesome.
Karma is a very varied album. It's no progressive album in the classic meaning of the word. No keyboards, except piano, present. But it's not a plain rock-album as well. As you can expect from a drummer, the drums are great and the riffs lovely. Personally I liked the fast tracks (like The River is Wide) a bit better than the slower ones (like Will It be Me), mainly for this reason. Besides, D'Virgilio appears to be a great singer, capable of much more than the harmony-vocals he does for Spock's Beard.Conclusion:
Neal Morse - It's Not Too Late
Whereas Neal's solo debut still had obvious traces of Spock's Beard - something which is also obviously present in the Transatlantic albums - and contained the occassional prog track and big epic, this new album is much more straightforward and is filled with enjoyable pop rock songs, which Neal wrote over the last 20 years. You'll have a hard time finding any clear prog influences on this CD. Is that a bad thing ? Not al all, as far as I'm concerned. I already found it very refreshing on the first solo album to hear Neal perform tunes that weren't Beardy clones and, as stated on the Radiant Records website pleased progressive fans...and their wives!. Neal takes just that direction one step further on It's Not Too Late.
As I told my fellow DPRP editors, as a result I do realize that as an average prog fan you
really have to love Neal's first album to like this one. To get an idea of the
direction this CD goes into, imagine more songs in the vein of Landslide, Everything is Wrong,
Nowhere Fast and Emma. Also, this album is much more piano-oriented than the
first CD, with obvious traces of The Beatles and The Eagles.
The album has a high number of mid-tempo songs and ballad, but the cheerful tunes are also present in the form of the title track All The Young Girls Cry, Ain't Seen Nothing Like Me, Oh Angie, Something Blue and the gospel-like The Change.
Lyrically the album focusses on loss and renewal and might appeal most to people in their thirties and forties, since the subjects deal with broken love, abandoned children, messed-up parent-child relationships, changes and new starts. Especially the lyrics for Leah, Broken Home and I Am Your Father (featuring Neal's old band from the 80s) are very moving and not just because I can (unfortunately) personally relate to them. The good thing about these songs is that, while Neal brings up some social issues, he looks at them from both sides without rejecting any point of view.
At times the album has a refreshing free-formed arrangement, like the jazzy piano jam at the end of the title track (when you can hear Morse saying 'I've wanted to do this for years'). Also, the good sense of humor of songs like Lost Cause and Nowhere Fast is present on this album like in the funky 'ode to women' Ain't Seen Nothin' Like Me which reminds me of some of the tunes Sting used to do the Nothing Like The Sun album.
With the possible exception of The Wind and The Rain and Eyes of the World (a song Neal wrote 2 days after his friend George Pappanostas died) I really like all of the songs on this album and all in all it's a very enjoyable CD with good pop rock songs and ballads. Probably less interesting to the narrow-minded proggers, but recommended to those who really enjoyed the first solo album and don't mind the occassional album with catchy and accessible mainstream material. Neal couldn't have described it any better himself when he called it a good solid songwriter piano pop kind of album.
The songs that make up It's Not Too Late are more concise and song orientated than the music found on Spock's Beard albums, however, Neal's distinctive voice and style of delivery will make it accessible to followers of the band and ultimately, given the right airplay It's Not Too Late could introduce Neal Morse to a much wider audience.
The opening song and title track of the album starts with piano and voice and gradually builds into full flow with swirling hammond organ and fellow Beard, Nick D' Virgilio, doing what he does best and laying a great foundation for the track. It's Not Too Late is the longest song on the album and Neal, Nick and the rest of the band "jam out" to the end of the track.
All The Young Girls Cry is a catchy driving guitar based track with an infectious chorus line and strong harmonies, if I were to take a track from the album as a single, this would be the one.
First of the ballads and as with the title track, opens with piano and solo voice, however Leah is a more melancholic track and the instrumentation helps to build to make this an emotive and strong song. The Angels Will Remember, So Long Goodbye Blues and The Change follow very much in the mould and arrangement style established with the first few tracks. Next track up is Broken Homes, which sees Neal backed only by a solo acoustic guitar and serves as one of the tracks that could easily form part of a longer piece from Spock's Beard.
Oh Angie follows in the same style as All The Young Girl's Cry - a possible follow up single perhaps? The Eyes Of The World (George's Song) features some interesting slide guitar and again strong vocal harmonies in the chorus sections. Next up is You Ain't Seen Nothing - a fairly laid back number with a nice bluesy feel.
I Am Your Father is the second of the ballads from the album again starting with Neal's solo voice and piano which builds and is possibly the strongest track on the album.
Something Blue lifts the tempo once again - an infectious track in a similar vein as All the Young Girls Cry and Oh Angie. The Wind and the Rain finishes the album - again a strong chorus but for me the highlight of this track was the interplay between the piano and drums on the outro - an excellent section.
This is not a progressive rock album by any stretch of the imagination, however, it is a must for all Spock's Beard devotees. The tracks are strong and full of melody and after listening to the CD several times, I found many of the songs I could not get out of my head. Tracks for me were Broken Homes, I Am Your Father and Leah.
This is a tricky one to give a rating to and for many of the reasons already mentioned, however, I enjoyed listening to the material and am still inclined to offer a recommended tag.
Paranoise - ISHQ
Jim Matus and his band Paranoise are back with a new album, ISHQ and once again this band show that they are the trailblazers for all those bands trying to merge world music with heavy progressive rock. The title of the album is a Sufi word meaning transcendence and as the band managed to conjure up so perfectly on their previous outing, Private Power, they have introduced a myriad of ethnic elements, most of them from the Middle East, and have managed to come up trumps once again. Furthermore the band also utilise their music to promote their left wing philosophies introducing the words of people such as Noam Chomsky and Terrence McKenna, though the influences are not as pronounced as on Private Power.
As I mentioned the majority of the ethnic influences that appear on the album have their roots in the Middle East or North Africa with at times the album involving relatively well-known musicians such as the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The album opens with A Call To The Enlightened Ones/Habiba Jaahratini which also involves the voice and music of Abdessadeq Chekra. The initial segment of the track has the track set firmly in its traditional style with the group joining in, or augmenting, the vocals with the use of vocal harmonies. This is a feature that Paranoise utilise to the maximum in their music with the instruments creeping in slowly and joining in with the more traditional elements.
Occurrence Currents/Wedding Song starts off with some incredible drumming as Geoffrey Brown accompanies the ethnic chanting. Another aspect that gives the album this unique flavour is the fact that the ethnic recordings were never originally recorded to be played along to a hard rock ensemble. Having said that the conversion is mind-blowing. The central section allows the band a degree of breathing space with practically each member indulging in a solo, with special mention made about Rohan Gregory's violin playing which maintains the link between the ethnic and modern.
The title track, Ishq, is the first track on the album that features the band playing a composition that is totally their own creation. Once again one can see the importance of rhythm within their structure, aided by Brown's excellent drumming, with the vocals seemingly sung in a hybrid of Sufi and English. The ability of the band to create a heavy almost heavy metal plodding sound that still allows the violin to stand out is a credit to their musicianship. I Own has the speaking voice of Vandana Shiva incorporated into the band's music with a backdrop of acoustic guitars and didgeridoos. As the band move in the music turns to an almost Black Sabbath drag, though there is one distinctive difference between the two styles. The vocals involve a duet between Matus' vocals and Shiva's chanting making this track one of the album highlights.
Mondanadosh/Quacida An-Nabi sees the band incorporating chants and rhythms from Morocco and Afghanistan to create the overall ambience of the track. Each time I listen to this music, one can really feel the musical bridge that Paranoise are attempting to build between East and West, something which few musicians have managed to fulfill, Peter Gabriel being a notable example. Morocco seems to be one of the favourite influences on the music of Paranoise. On Private Power, The Master Musicians Of Jajouka had been incorporated into a track whilst this time round no less than two tracks have overt Moroccan traditional references. A Dance With The Other/Jajouka Black Eyes is based on a traditional Moroccan Song together with the typical Matus arrangement. Bob Laramie excels himself with his five string bass playing on this track as he leads the solo as well as creates the rumbling and running rhythmic back droop. A string figure in Jim Matus' political belief's is Terrence McKenna, an ethnobotanist and expert on the subject of psychedelic plants and Shamanism, it is to be expected that he would figure on the album. History's Fractal Mountain features McKenna's narration set in an electronic sonoric ambience with the occasional harmonic singing of Jim Cole, leader of Spectral Voices. This track then merges with I'm A User/Pilentzee Pee that for the first time moves into the European continent for its ethnic references. This time round the country is Bulgaria with the choir/vocals providing a sharp contrast to the band's hard rock style as well as the vocals of Matus.
In Superimposition/Kafi, Paranoise turn to Pakistan and the Qawwali of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Possessing one of the most powerful and moving voices that the musical world has seen, Khan has had a tremendous impact on many singers from the rock world, such as Peter Gabriel and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam). Hearing this Paranoise treatment of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, is one of the first times I have heard his music being translated into a more Westernised approach, with only Michael Brook's production coming any close to this. However hearing his voice singing along to such drumming and distorted guitars really is excellent. Overmind Over Matter/Allah Maula Dam Dam retains Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn's vocals and music as a backdrop. The instrumental section sees the band playing a more subdued style together with the harmonic singing created by Jim Cole and the band. In fact it is only toward the end that one can hear the chanting of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Heliocentric Strum/Helalisa features music by Hamza El Din and one notices that there is a Maghreb influence on the style. The music becomes slightly more dragging once again as the band also bring in Galen Brandt on vocals. However the closing number Have More/Kayamba Dance/Metahistorical Disquisition is one of the most surprising tracks on the album. The influence this time comes from deep in the African sub-continent, namely Kenya. The extreme rhythm is reflected on the speed at which the band execute this track which exudes power as well as seemingly, anger. Of course, no Paranoise album would be complete without a contribution from philosopher Noam Chomsky, whose narration is played out over Kenyan rhythm drums. Once again Paranoise have surpassed even themselves creating an album which manages to fuse all the elements of ethnic music and hard progressive rock. If you did not get hold of Private Power, make sure you don't miss out on Ishq!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Devin Townsend - Terria
Terria is an album that is probably too heavy for most prog fans, even to those who can adjust to some metal now and again. This contrary to what you would expect from the very beautiful cover art (no weird fonts and no skeletons for a change). For the real metal freaks amongst us however, it clearly contains lots to enjoy. And if you can take it up to give this album a couple of spins (it took me at least 6 times before I could cope with the extremely heavy first three tracks) it will become more familiar and relaxed. Especially the middle section contains lots of wonderful mellower sections. Devin Townsend has been sort of discovered by Steve Vai, with which he has played. Later on (he is now about thirty), he went over to real hard metal. This is his fourth solo album so far.
Production-wise this is a very good album, as we have come to expect from the InsideOut releases by now. As stated, the music can be very heavy. The vocals are very diverse, from soft and gentle to the deepest grunts I have ever heard. The good part is he can sing with and without this rasping sound in his voice, creating many different atmospheres. And most of all, it's perfectly in tune.
The first track is
very mysterious and dark, a soundscape with threatening soft bass and electric
guitar, suddenly bursting out. The climax builds further and ends with a deep grunt
at the start of the complex second track. The more melodic sections, with a tricky
rhythm, are quite worth the effort to listen to. Some parts are a bit too heavy, even
for me, with screams and a massive wall of sound. The many different other sections
make it quite a good track however.
Earth Day has a chorus that sticks to mind ("recycle!"), so throwing garbage away will never be the same again ;-). This too is a track with many rhythmic variations, and a bit more towards regular prog metal, albeit still on the heavy side.
Things quieten down with the mellow Deep Peace, featuring acoustic guitar in a more folky tune. With the farm sounds on the background, it has the calm atmosphere of Granchesters' Meadow. It becomes progressively more powerful, but does not go over the edge. It features some interesting solo (meaning: no other instruments can be heard) electric guitar parts halfway through, going over in a melodic semi-classical tune (here the connection with prog/melodic/symphonic rock is at its clearest). This is a track that most prog fans can appreciate, I am sure. The same can be said about Canada, which seems to be based on more average blues schemes. Quite a good track, that fits the progressive metal tag just fine. Down And Under is again a semi-acoustic, instrumental, track. It is quite a fine track as well!
The Fluke goes back to the heavy metal roots. Uptempo and hard, but with softer touches in the middle and actual spacey keyboards at the end! Nobody's Here is a ballad, which somehow reminded me a bit of the Prince ballads (Purple Rain) mixed with Dream Theater. Dunno if Devin will thank me for that comparison ;-). The last serious track on the album is Tiny Tears, as Stagnant is a mere experimental soundscape, which cannot be taken seriously and will be skipped after you have heard it once. I always wonder what moves artists into putting these tracks on their albums? Anyway, Tiny Tears is a heavy metal ballad, with a good layer of guitar and keyboards, and the necessary different instrumental sections and a very strong chorus. Really good track as well to close the album with.
For me personally, it is a bit too much. I cannot handle the couple of very heavy tracks, and I think most prog adapts, even a lot of the prog metal lovers, will have some difficulty in digesting this album. The middle section of the album is very good, however and the "softer" tracks are really worthwhile. If you are very much into the heavier side of life, but are also not afraid of a bit more mellow stuff, I think you might find this a great album. For the rest I can only advise to try to listen to it in your local shop or on the internet and to decide if this is something for you yourself, after having read this review.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Djam Karet - New Dark Age
Djam Karet is a 4-piece band from California, USA, founded in 1984. Their latest album, New Dark Age, is their 11th release.
Djam Karet's music is fully instrumental, and quite anarchistic. For this reason the band is often compared with King Crimson and Grateful Dead. Usually I'm not too fond of instrumental music. I prefer my music to come in songs, not in instrumental improvisations. However, I found this album to be quite good.
The music sounds very adventurous, partly because of the strange soundscapes and sound effects that are used. The band seems to explore the borders of progressive rock, jazz and electronic ambience. Although most of the tracks sound like complex improvisations, this is not freeform jazz by any means. The musicianship is great, and clearly shows a prog rock approach, with lots of interesting rhythm changes.
One of my favourite tracks is Raising Orpheus, with atmospheric keyboard and wailing guitar, reminding me a bit of the first UK-album, Eloy and Floyd. Also quite good is Alone With The River Man, a progressive track in several parts, with some hypnotising eastern rhythms.
A bit more jazzy, but still quite nice are No Man's Land and All Clear, both with exciting prog/jazz-rock rhythm and some nice heavy guitar playing. Least favourite are tracks 2, 4 and 10, which are mainly bizarre soundscapes with no melody, but odd sounds and distorted vocal effects. I'm too conventional for this kind of stuff, I guess.
Final judgement: if you like adventurous, guitar dominated proggy jazz-rock instrumentals, you might give this album a try. It's much more accessable and progressive than their earlier releases, like Reflections From the Firepool. Also check out Remco's reviews of two earlier Djam Karet albums, Suspension & Displacement and Burning the Hard City.
Fans of Djam Karet might like to know the band also released Ascension, New Dark Age Volume 2, a limited edition CD with pieces composed during the New Dark Age sessions.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10