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Reviews in this issue:
Various Artists - Pigs And Pyramids
(An All Star Lineup Performing The Songs Of Pink Floyd)
On receiving this CD my first reaction was "Did we really need another album full of Pink Floyd cover versions?" The plain simple answer is NO! Many people might find this album interesting from the point of view of who the artists performing on the album are, yet on the other hand it all boils down to what you would expect from a cover version of a track. I honestly feel that an interesting cover version is one that has the artist attempting a make over of the track in question whilst still retaining the basic elements of the original piece. On Pigs And Pyramids, all one gets is relatively faithful renditions of the original tracks, yet played by various artists.
Looking at the all-star lineup on the album one cannot but feel that a much better job could have been created. The masterminds behind this album are Bob Kullick and Billy Sherwood (Yes) who between them have also enlisted an enviable line-up. Vocalists include Fee Waybill (The Tubes), Doug Pinnick (King's X), Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen), Glenn Hughes, Jason Scheff (Chicago), Robben Ford, Tommy Shaw (Styx), Bobby Kimball (Toto), and Robin McAuley (MSG, Far Corporation, Grand Prix). Bassists include Mike Porcaro (Toto), Chris Squire (Yes), Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy), Jimmy Haslip, Tony Franklin (The Firm), Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson) and Phil Soussan (Ozzy Osbourne) while guitarists include Ronnie Montrose, Gary Hoey, Steve Lukather (Toto), Eliot Easton, Dweezil Zappa, Robben Ford, Ritchie Kotzen (Poison), Bruce Kulick (Kiss) and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Doobie Brothers). Completing the line-ups are drummers such as Greg Bissonette, Alan White (Yes), Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa), Pat Torpey (Mr Big), Anysley Dunbar (Journey), Mike Baird (Journey) and Eric Singer (Black Sabbath, Kiss) together with keyboardists Derek Sherinian (Dream Theatre), Steve Poracaro (Toto) and Tony Kaye (Yes), and saxophonists Scotty Page (Pink Floyd Live) and Edgar Winter.
Onto the tracks chosen for this compilation. Being a completist, I would never consider that just three albums from the Pink Floyd back catalogue would be sufficient in creating a tribute album. The only albums represented here are Dark Side Of The Moon (Tracks 5, 8, 9 and 11), Wish You Were Here (Tracks 2, 4 and10) and The Wall (Tracks 1, 3, 6 and 7). True, these include the most "well-known" pieces of Pink Floyd, yet they hardly scratch the surface as to who and what Pink Floyd are all about. Add to this that most, if not all, the tracks are played note for note to the originals, and you would have been better off buying the "real" versions rather than this! There are a few exceptions, such as Edgar Winter's sax solo on Money, which help spice up the album, but most of it is just too much of a carbon copy. When one takes another look at who was on this tribute album, one would have expected some form of imaginative take on these classics. Instead the album is quite a dross affair. If you want to hear these tracks, you'd be better off hearing the originals. The only people I think would find this appealing are either Pink Floyd completists who collect anything remotely related to Floyd, or ardent fans of the musicians playing on the album.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Tantalus - Lumen Et Caligo I
British band Tantalus are back, once again with an impressive work that further cements their place within the revitalised British progressive rock scene. Lumen Et Caligo I features Bob Leek (lead vocals, guitars), Gerlinde Hunt (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Damien Slowey (drums, percussion) and Jason Tilbrook (bass, mandolin, balalaika, 12-string guitar). The band's previous guitarist, Tim Day still makes an appearance on two tracks with some wonderful guitar solos. The album itself is a 2-CD project with the second part due to be released in April/May 2003.
As the opening notes of While There's still Time creep out of the speakers I was taken aback by the sudden leap in musical style that the band have managed to infuse into their music. Whereas Jubal was pretty much set in the classical style of progressive rock, this time round Tantalus have managed to carry their music into the twenty-first century whilst still retaining a firm classical prog-rock foundation. Opening with a synthesiser intro seemingly straight from the Afro-Celt Sound System, While There's Still Time radically shifts in direction as soon as the Emersonian keyboards kick in. Bob Leek's vocals are extremely endearing giving the music a special warmth, reminding me very much of John Wetton.
Leek's solo compositions on the album seem to stand out from the rest of the album, possessing a much more AOR style. Thus, tracks like Eyes and Finger Painting have much more in common with works from Marillion in the Seasons End-era or in John Wetton's solo work. By no means do I mean to imply that these songs are inferior to the remainder of the album as they are in themselves well-crafted tracks which tend to give the album a more melodic and accessible approach. Leek also contributed to the acoustic guitar instrumental Shhhhhh! We're Sleeping as well as Dancing On Eggshells which has a slightly eighties sound to it, mostly due to the keyboard sounds. Not wishing to mention John Wetton once again, I might as well mention Asia as a possible likeness!
So what does one expect to hear on the remainder of the album? Well basically it is replete with complex hooks, varying time signatures which require a demanding listen. The band manage to blend in the various soloing instruments (guitars and keyboards) to perfection with both very often working in unison and harmony. The guitars have a nice crunch added to them which allows the music to come across as being hard but never too heavy to ward off non-prog metal lovers. Furthermore the band manage to create wonderful contrasting sounds within the same track moving from fast-paced heavy rock to the more melodic and placid vocal pieces. Tracks such as Raining On the Parade and On Dr Syntax's Head are prime examples of this. The latter track has a Red-era King Crimson feel to it with the drone that is created in unison with the vocals giving a slow dragging yet rich and full sound.
The Britishness of Tantalus also comes to the fore in tracks such as the instrumental Harp Dance/Dig The Sod. Strangely enough the band prefer to go acoustic when playing instrumental tracks as the recorder takes centre stage on this piece before giving way to a lovely guitar solo. Route Thirty Six Part Two, follows in the use of the routes as titles for instrumentals as the band had Route Forty Nine on the Jubal album! This is classic progressive rock with the band flitting from the Yes-like grandeur of guitars and keyboards to a more acoustic vein of rock and is one of the highlights of Lumen Et Caligo.
The last two tracks on the album are both strikingly different to the rest of the album 's works for different reasons. First up is Hearts 'n' Minds which is a Nick Beere composition and also features him as the main vocalist whose style is in the David Gilmour vein which sounds like a cross between narrating and singing in a low, almost monotone voice. The album closing number is Black Dream, which is in this case a cover version from a Nicky James piece which had originally been released as a single in 1972. A founder member of The Move and The Moody Blues, he has further collaborated with the band for their forthcoming Part II album. Opening with a nice heavy introduction, the track in fact is one of the "heavier" pieces on the album featuring some great power chords from both guitars and keyboards. In fact the piece has intrigued me so much that I feel compelled to see what the original piece was like!
Once again, Tantalus have proved that they are on top of their game and are one of the most interesting progressive rock bands to emerge from the British Isles in recent years. Lumen Et Caligo should put them firmly on the map alongside other "new" British progressive rock bands such as Mostly Autumn. With progressive rock interest seemingly on the increase together with a bit of luck Tantalus should be a prominent part of this movement. They deserve it. Go out and buy this album, you will definitely not be disappointed.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Inner Recipe - High Atop The Giving Tree
For some reason or the other, this album stood on my list as being "metal". The cover did not really seem to contradict this, but I was quite surprised when I put on the disc. It is no metal at all. OK, at times it is quite powerful music, but it is very much comparable to a band like Jump. Indeed the vocal lines, even the intonation of the vocalist, remind of John Dexter Jones of Jump.
The music on this album is quite diverse, from blues rock, ballads through real progressive rock on the last track, Shape Shifter. But one track doesn't make it a prog album of course. The reason I review the band on our prog pages though, is the fact that I believe that if you like the more blues rock oriented style of bands like Jump, then Inner Recipe is going to thrill you, I'm sure. The music is sufficiently complex to keep most progheads happy, and accessible enough for the Pearl Jam audience to be happy as well (some parts remind me a bit of Pearl Jam).
I believe that this band is probably able to give a good diverse live show, and they do stand out in terms of musicianship above a lot of crap that is produced nowadays, but I doubt that they will break through in any genre, as they are such a mix bag of all kinds of styles. Sometimes it is worthwhile to specialize ...
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Centrozoon - The Cult Of: Bibbiboo
Ever since the conception of progressive rock as a musical genre, various other musical styles have willingly and unwillingly been drawn into this musical category. One of these categories would be that of electronica, a style pioneered mainly by various German artists such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, to mention two of the most well known artists. Much has been written about this relatively new band on the scene, Centrozoon and their third release, The Cult Of: Bibbiboo. The duo involved are Markus Reuter on touch guitar and Bernhard Wösteinrich on synthesizers and percussion. Together they have come up with an album full of sonic landscapes which though minimalistic and seemingly simple, is exceptionally rich sounding.
One cannot describe this music as it is so abstract in nature, but rather refer to the various influences that seem to creep up on the band's recordings. Of course from a progressive point of view, one should mention King Crimson, and more directly Robert Fripp as being a main protagonist within band's musical evolvement. Reuter and his touch guitar, which if I am not mistaken is somewhat like a Chapman Stick but based on a guitar sound, have emerged from the school of Frippertronics. The KC association does not only stop with the music as KC biographer Sid Smith contributes the sci-fi storyline accompanying the album.
Rhythm is not of primordial importance on this album, though one does find various loops surfacing, especially on All The Time It Is Using Us. Another musician who seems to be linked to Centrozoon is No-Man vocalist Tim Bowness, who it seems is also planning to add vocals to some Centrozoon compositions. At times one feels as if there is the hand of vintage Pink Floyd or modern day Radiohead within the music. However Centrozoon have their own individual identity.
Commercial is a word that CANNOT be whispered when listening to this release and (unfortunately) it is a case of like it or leave it. If the works of artists such as Boards Of Canada, or avant-garde modern composers such as Stockhausen interest you, then Centrozoon are within their league. If on the other hand, the cold sound of electronica does not stimulate your nerve endings, it would be wiser to skip this release.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
The Morrigan - Hidden Agenda
One of the most intriguing musical styles within the progressive rock genre would be that of the progressive folk scene, a scene that is predominantly British and which for years has been dominated by legendary bands such as Fairport Convention with various other bands or singers (Roy Harper would be a fine example) surfacing occasionally to reinvigorate this vibrant style. The Morrigan are another fine example of how a band can combine the traits of progressive rock within a traditional or folk landscape.
The band have been around for a number of years now and on this album feature Cathy Alexander (vocals, recorders, keyboards, 12 string guitar), Mervyn B. (vocals, flute bass, percussion), Colin Masson (guitars, bass, vocals, occasional keyboards), Dave Lodder (guitars, bass, occasional keyboards), Arch (drums, percussion, vocals) and Matt Carter (mandolin, harp).
Traditional folk music forms the very foundation of this band who also incorporate these tunes within their own music. In fact, Hidden Agenda opens to a traditional tune, Swallow's Tail which features the recorder (as can be imagined) as the main solo instrument. However, the backing rhythm section has a nice modern beat and touch to it which helps this well-known traditional tune sound totally within the context of this album. Volta/Basse Danse/Volta is another traditional piece arranged by The Morrigan who combine the works of sixteenth century composer Suzato (Basse Danse) together with the well known Volta by Praetorius. Listening to this piece really brings home the works of another legendary progressive folk band, Jethro Tull, who also have made heavy use of various members of Fairport Convention throughout their history.
South Australia/Roaring Forties has a definite English flavour sounding like a cross between the Saw Doctors and Lindisfarne with its bouncy feel-good factor as the accordion and violin play into the band setup with an ever so ear-friendly chorus. Slieve Russell/The March Hare and Joe Cooley's Reel have a distinctive Celtic feel, mainly due to the use of the recorder while The Parting Glass has that mournful sound that allows Cathy Alexander's voice to really come to the fore matching great voices such as Sandy Denny and Norma Waterson.
Based just on the above tracks, one would deduce that this album is a pure folk album, yet the inclusion of three other pieces shift the balance towards a progressive rock nature. In The End has the band resorting to a classical progressive rock piece which has much in common with the seventies style of greats such as Genesis and also at times Gentle Giant, though at the end the track merges into another traditional composition, Tristan's Lament. A Night To Remember is pure prog with booming keyboards, twists in the time signatures as well as great vocals which are in the form of a duet between Cathy Alexander and Mervyn B.
The only other track which is an individual composition is The Other, composed by Alexander. The musical brunt of this track is carried by her own keyboards as her vocals come across as being in a Marianne Faithful style though an octave or two higher!
The main defining line as to whether you would like this album or not is whether you like folk-rock or not. The amount of folk/traditional tunes, albeit in a modern style, is dominant on the album and form the main framework of Hidden Agenda. The remaining tracks, though fine examples of progressive folk, act as mere fillers, though they stand out as brilliant individual pieces too. It seems that The Morrigan's future is somewhat in the balance at the moment with the news that both Mervyn B. and Dave Lodder are leaving Britain and thus also the band. One will have to wait and see and it would indeed be a pity of this band had to suddenly fizzle out. There is a lack of quality progressive folk, and The Morrigan are one of the prime exponents of this genre. If you are looking for something along the lines of bands such as Fairport Convention, then this album will go done smoothly.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.