Reviews in this issue:
Jimi Slevin - Freeflight
Tracklist: Summer (2:52), Stormy Seas (4:52), The Children Of Lir (6:30), Freeflight (4:56), White Cottage (3:38), Forever And A Year (4:23), Oasis (2:45), Lords Of The Rocks (6:05), Dylan's Tune (3:42) Bonus track: Gentleman Jim's (6:41)
Tracklist: Silver Sea (4:14), World Without Fear (4:33), Keem Bay (3:19), We Got Guns (6:24), The Battle (4:12), Just To See Your Smile (3:07), Gem (2:02), Sleep, Little Bird (2:37), Maggie Loughlin's (3:20), The Riteroad (3:22), Us And The Animals (4:21), Shine On, Gail (2:34), Signal Down The Line (3:38), Home To The Heart (3:51)
Two albums in one review, because although the years of release are not less than nineteen, these albums are the first and the latest solo albums by Irish guitarist Jimi Slevin, probably best known for his work with Peggy's Leg (whose album CD re-issue I reviewed last year) and Skid Row.
These albums, however, are quite different from those well-known names from the past. Acoustic guitar predominate the sounds on these CDs that are a mix of mainly blues and folk. Easy listening at first glance, especially Freeflight, but some songs contain clever guitar play in several layers, offering a lot more enjoyment to the more-than-casual listener, for example the subtleties in the chorus of Lords Of The Rocks.
The first contemporary band that came to mind hearing these album was Mostly Autumn, who I think combine progressive music and folk very nicely. A song like Stormy Seas, for example, is probably something they have been listening to all those years ago.
The songs also have a Irish atmosphere, reminiscing for example Planxty, although Jimi's songs are less the type of folk music you'd expect to hear in pubs.
With this release, Freeflight has its first CD issue. Not much later, Jimi released his second solo album. Home To The Heart contains more songs and less instrumentals than Freeflight. More instruments are used. Freeflight was more about the atmosphere, and Home To The Heart puts the emphasis on the songs. And although the big time gap could mean a big change, it's obvious Jimi Slevin is still making music close to his heart.
There are still some songs and most of the instrumentals that have the style of the first album. Songs like World Without Fear and Maggie Loughlin's could have easily been on the Freeflight album.
In roughly the same style but deserving a special note here is the remarkable instrumental Keem Bay. A beautiful track that breathes the atmosphere of the first album, but has the instrumentation of most of the second. Wonderful.
Different from the first album is We Got Guns. But also in this track you hear the subtle melodies and instruments and the true heart with which he writes and plays. A nice mix of electric guitar and piano soloing in the middle section of the song. Riteroad is the heaviest track on the album, showing Slevin's diversity as a songwriter and player. But also the diversity of his gentle and very warm voice, which here is almost funky.
Very weird is the country music in The Bottle. The funny lyrics are a bit off compared to the other songs on the album. The opening track and Shine On, Gail are a bit too sweet to my taste, but the rest of the album is just great listening.
For both albums I have only one conclusion: beautiful music. It's probably very different from what you mostly read about on these pages, as my DPRP colleague Henri Bos already mentioned when he reviewed these albums in his CDelight section. Still, with many instrumentals and the first album largely played on acoustic instruments, Jimi Slevin's inspiration also has a prog minded part, which shows in how songs like Stormy Seas and Gentleman Jim's.
The result of him combining all his influences and talents result in two albums of honest and beautiful music that have been and will be in my CD player for a long long time.
Conclusion for both albums: 7.5 out of 10.
Alquilbencil - From Serengethi To Taklamakan
Historically the Moors certainly left their mark on Spain, both in terms of culture as well as architecture. This influence seems to have also left an impact within various musical spheres, with one of these bands being Alquilbencil. Formed in 1997, this Barcelona based band is composed of Carlos Ro (guitars), Ricard Pons (bass), Alex Alguacil (keyboards), Oriol Jimenez (sax, vocals), and Marti Ocaña (drums) and From Serengethi To Taklamakan is their second full length release.
As the name of the album implies, this is indeed a journey through a myriad of musical spheres reaching out to all corners of the musical world. One can find almost all of progressive rock's classical influences thrown in together with a variety of traditional hooks, many of which have a Middle Eastern flair to them whilst at other times one can even pick up a more Central European flair
The opening Introducció gives the band a decisive Canterbury touch with their combination of saxophone and guitars. This is definitely one of the striking features of this interesting band as they flit from one solo to another with constant interchanging between various instruments. Furthermore they are no strangers to constant shifts in time signature allowing the band to create various variations around a similar theme throughout each track.
As already mentioned, the band also manage to infuse an element of folk music, much in evidence on tracks such as La Presa. On La Presa the band manage to create two strikingly different parts to this track as the track originally starts off where they had left off on Introducció with the Canterbury touch, to then taper off into a much lighter jazzier feel wherein the sax touches on various traditional folk tunes.
Apart from Canterbury bands such as Soft Machine and Hatfield And The North, King Crimson also seem to have had a profound effect on Alquilbencil. This is evident in the their use of rhythm as the main medium of conveying the musical message as happens on tracks such as Hit and Çet.
Dire: From Serengethi To Taklamakan is possibly the most "traditional" Alquilbencil can get with their combination of guitar, keyboards and sax giving a Klezmatic feel to the music. One cannot place the music as originating from a definite continent as happens with other bands. Instead Alquilbencil seem to have taken a number of hooks from different cultures and placed them together under one umbrella. Estricina, has a Mediterranean touch, almost Greek in rhythm, whilst the light-headedness of Serveix-me Un Altre Got De Vi with its swing feel adds a dose of lightness to the rather more serious approach of most other tracks.
From Serengethi To Taklamakan is not just about weird progressions coupled with the occasional folk interlude. On tracks like Waiting Room, Alquilbencil show that they are also capable of playing what could be considered as pretty straight forward music, especially when compared to the other tracks on this intriguing album. Waiting Room is played out in a neo-progressive style with Oriol Jimenez abandoning his saxophone to contribute vocals. Fertil Crescent has a late-Floydian approach with a lengthy instrumental acting as an introduction to the sparse yet effective vocals.
Apart from the great music, the fact that this album was recorded live makes From Serengethi To Taklamakan an impressive album as this Spanish band have managed to bring together a world of influences and managed to present some new and very fresh. These last few years one has witnessed the emergence of various bands such as Afro-Celt Sound System and Paranoise, that have managed to infuse a degree of traditional into their rock approach, albeit to various degrees of prominence. Alquilbencil with their uncharacteristic blend of progressive rock could very well fall into this category and one would do well to give this band a chance. They deserve it!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Osiris - Beyond Control Live
Recorded live at the Diplomat in 1991, Beyond Control is proof that progressive rock enjoys a healthy following not just in Westernised societies, but also in the Middle East. Osiris are in actual fact from Bahrain and prior to the recording of this album had already released three studio albums. In fact what one finds on this live recording are tracks culled from their previous albums as well as unreleased pieces.
Musically the band sound very much British in style, which could be somewhat surprising as the band was originally formed in Houston, Texas when band leader Mohammed Alsedaqi and his brother were at university there. The presence of two keyboardists give the band an extremely full sound with various references made to both the traditional progressive rock scene via bands such Camel, Genesis and Yes, together with neo-progressive such as Marillion and IQ.
The band's first album, Osiris 1 was released in 1981 and only the closing Fantasy was found on that album. One of the album's harder tracks, this piece shows the profound neo-progressive influence on the band's music. The whole track (as is the album) is full of catchy melody lines with much duetting between guitar and keyboards.
In 1985, Osiris released Myths And Legends which also featured the track Wasted, one of the lengthier numbers on this album. Here the band seem to have adopted a much more "commercial" approach with the sound being a cross between post-Gabriel Genesis and early Asia. Of course the increased duration of the track time also signifies that there is a predominance of instrumental sections, all of which are executed with great precision, exemplifying the tightness of this band.
The last studio album to be released before the recording of this live album was 1991's Reflections, represented here by Reflections and Lost And Found. Once again the band come across as a tight outfit with numerous neo-progressive references showing up on most if not all of the tracks including the previously unreleased tracks (Medley from "Tales Of Divers", Until We Meet, Once Upon A Time and Bird Of Prey).
In actual fact one must admit that Osiris tried out a musical formula and stuck to it throughout their history and this allows the band to appeal to those progressive rock fans enamoured of the neo-progressive rock movement. The solos are well executed and never overstay their presence. This is definitely one of the strong points that this band possesses as their pieces, no matter the length never run dry and become boring, something that not too many progressive rock bands are capable of. Possibly the only drawback that one encounters is the occasional discrepancy in sound balance, yet this is immediately forgiven when one considers that the whole album was recorded onto an ordinary tape deck and released as such without any additional over-dubs. However this does detriment from the overall live atmosphere as the audience is relegated to the background of the recording. Furthermore there are times when Alsadeqi's vocals seem to run out of steam, though this is adequately compensated by the great musicianship of the band.
This is a recommendable album to all neo-progressive fan lovers in search of something new, though the recordings are in actual fact over a decade old. The good news is that a footnote at the bottom of the album liner notes states that Osiris are in the process of releasing two new studio albums over the next year, something to look forward to!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Raison De Plus - Ici Est Ailleurs
Nancy based French band Raison De Plus have been around since the late eighties when they had a track included in the 1987 Enchantment compilation. The band have remained faithful to much of their musical traditions, in that there is a strong hint of the neo-progressive style with the occasional hint of classical influences. The band itself is composed of Jean-Louis Henriet (vocals, guitar), Alain Bassinot (bass), Patrick Schweighoffer (drums), Phillippe Rose (flute, synthesizers) and Dominique Marrion (vocals, keyboards).
With the lyrics all sung in French, the band sound very much like the counterparts Mona Lisa and Ange in both style and musical direction. Opening with the instrumental Renaissance, the band immediately show their influences with their mixture of eighties progressive style together with more rootsy playing especially with the inclusion of the flute as a solo instrument. Jamais J' Aurais Du Grandir starts off in a typical neo-progressive like stance with a rather mellow intro that blends in with flute to then give way to a mellotron-like backdrop to accompany the vocals. The same could be said of Le Roi Du Temps Gris, which has the band taking on a Mona Lisa stance, especially with the inclusion of a violin, delightfully played by Sophie Rose. Possibly the most interesting section on this track is the sharing of vocal duties by Michel Card, Séverine Rose and Henriet as each takes up the part of a different character during this piece.
In fact musically, Raison De Plus are an intriguing band very much like Camel. Musically they sound so calculated and precise, that this could also be one of the more detracting factors of their music. Listening to the two instrumentals on the album, Vagues À L'Âme and La Clé one realises that the band have come up trumps in their musical interpretation, yet do not deliver anything that sounds as if it was created on the spur of the moment. Admittedly such a judgment is dependant on each individual as there are many listeners who are attracted to such a style of music, such as fans of latter day Pink Floyd.
Another feature of Raison De Plus is the placidity of their music whose tempo is broken only at short intervals in various tracks such as the lengthy Dans La Cite Des Incredules or in Enterrre Vivant, were the keyboards take on a Tony Banks approach. Most times, however, the instrumental music is dominated by airy keyboards with the solos borne out by flute, guitar and occasionally violin.
Ici Est Ailleurs is nonetheless a most pleasant album with interesting musical arrangements and should appeal to most neo-progressive rock lovers of bands such as (old!) Marillion and IQ. However, one should remark that there is no ground breaking material on the album and nothing present that has not been done before. Furthermore one has to also put up with French vocals which can at times sound too heavily accentuated rather than smoothly flowing
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.