Reviews in this Issue :
Lana Lane - Covers Collection
Tracklist: The Wall (4:54), Kashmir (8:27), Soaring (4:55), Hold Your Head Up (4:55), Innocence (4:57), I'll See You In My Dreams (4:57), Don't Try So Hard (4:18), Northern Lights (4:34), Still Loving You (4:59), Weep In Silence (5:41), Stargazer (7:58)
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2003|
Lana Lane and Erik Norlander should need no introduction to regular visitors to the DPRP site, and as befits one of America's most prolific symphonic and melodic rock duo's, DPRP undertake a double Duo Review of their latest releases. The usual high quality of production and performance can be found here, on the Covers Collection and Music Machine. We would like to offer our thanks to Transmission / Double Dutch Records for their assistance and for offering us the CD prizes for our joint competition.
Lana Lane, having had several other albums reviewed by DPRP including two that were DPRP recommended, has produced here the Covers Collection. Lana is joined by the usual cast of supporting artists, including (husband) Erik Norlander, and members of his band Rocket Scientists, together with Novi Novog and Cameron Stone on strings. There are several well-known guests here too, including Arjen (Aryeon) Lucassen, Gregg Bissonette, Tony Franklin and Nick D’Virgillo.
Lana is no stranger to the cover version, having previously recorded songs by The Beatles, Elton John, Supertramp and Marillion amongst many others. Here, though, as the title reveals, we have nothing but covers. Having said that, I am only familiar with four of the eleven songs, so in most cases, I am unable to make comparisons with the originals. As you might guess, the tracks I already know are the more progressive ones, by Kansas, Argent, Led Zeppelin and Rainbow. Lana styles herself as a Melodic, Symphonic, Hard Rock artist, and fittingly, much of the material here is from the Melodic Rock camp.
The disc kicks off in high fashion with a stirring version of The Wall. Kansas’ original is followed quite closely, but with violin being replaced by viola, giving a subtle twist to the sound. Erik Norlander is a multi-faceted keyboard player of considerable accomplishment. He is adept at aping the stylistic flourishes of acknowledged masters like Emerson and Wakeman, but falls just short of creating his own unique identity. He does, however, add a harder, more metallic edge to his work, giving a modern feel to the songs. He is also a talented arranger, and this skill is much in evidence throughout this disc. The Wall is a great start to this collection. One of the strengths of this set is in the choice of some less obvious material to cover. Kashmir is probably the only song here that I feel has perhaps been done too often. I already own several versions of it by other artists. This aside, Lana’s take is well worth a listen. Her voice is a good fit for the material, and it is still a stomping epic of a track. Tony Franklin provides excellent fretless bass, and Gregg Bissonette is rock solid on the drums.
Soaring is the first of the tracks that are new to me. The original is by Aviary from the U.S.A., and on this evidence, they appear to be an A.O.R. band. While this is not my usual cup of tea, the song is enjoyably melodic, and features plenty of mellotron in the almost orchestral backing. There is a strong chorus and Lana is on fine form, singing with passion. Mark McCrite provides a neat guitar solo also.
With Hold Your Head Up I am back on surer ground, with this prog/pop classic long being a favourite of mine. This version is another winner, with fabulous organ and synth playing from Erik. In the booklet, he promises to stretch out and solo on this track when performing live. Sounds great to me. Lana emphasises the word "Woman" in the chorus, which was barely discernable on the original, and which helps add a personal touch. Innocence was by Enuff ‘Z’ Nuff, another band who had hitherto escaped my notice. The song has a strong Beatles vibe, and a catchy chorus, but is too sweet for my tastes. I don’t think I will be checking out the original band. It would probably make a good single for radio play, but it’s not for me.
Giant are the source of I’ll See You In My Dreams. This track is a mid-to-slow power ballad, and features an emotive guitar solo. I find this track to be largely successful and enjoyable. Not knowing the original, I am laying most of the praise on Norlander’s arrangement, but I could be doing Giant a disservice here. Don’t Try So Hard is a Queen song, but not one I’m familiar with. It has to be said that there are much stronger songs in Queen’s catalogue. The arrangement isn’t bad but the song plods a little, and the lyrics are a touch on the trite side. Erik Norlander plays all guitars on this track, but fails to lift it above the ordinary.
Northern Lights, disappointingly, is not the Renaissance song, which was a minor hit in the U.K. I would have liked to hear Lana tackle that one. This track is by TNT and is a pretty straight melodic rocker. From a soft beginning, it develops into an anthemic chorus, with impressive symphonic backing. The electric guitar solos from Gabriel Moses are pretty hot. The overall feel is a little on the commercial side, but overall, it’s a good track.
The next track is a surprise highlight for me. I wouldn’t have expected to like a Scorpions track this much. Still Loving You is a slow-burning moody ballad, given a superb arrangement, which is dripping with harpsichord and viola. I used to like the Scorps a long time ago, but it is years since I listened to them (excepting their mega hit Winds of Change which you could hardly escape from). This is one of my favourite tracks.
Weep In Silence is a Uriah Heep track, but again, I don’t recall hearing the original. Nor does it sound like typical Heep to me. It’s another slow paced track, with some interesting keyboard embellishments, and features Nick D’Virgillo on drums. Lana, as usual, conveys some powerful emotions on this one. It is pretty good stuff.
The suitably epic closer is that old chestnut Stargazer. I used to love this track when I was a spotty teenager (as opposed to the spotty forty something I am now). I haven’t heard it for years, but … I still love it. This one really took me back. The arrangement stays fairly faithful to the original, but with some added cello. The main difference, of course, is the vocals. Lana’s voice is, unsurprisingly, not quite as powerful as Ronnie Dio’s, but that doesn’t stop this being a rousing success. I had a real struggle on, stopping myself punching the air on the choruses. OK, I failed, I admit it, and I punched and punched! This is a fantastic way to end a covers album, and makes me want to hear the original again.
In conclusion, this is an intelligently assembled collection, with a good sense of pacing, and barely a weak track in sight. It’s sure to have some tracks you already love, and a few you won’t have come across before. It is easily as good as Lana’s “proper” albums. You can’t say fairer than that.
The aptly titled Covers Collection is the third in line of special compilation albums from Lana Lane, following her two previous Ballad Collection releases from 1998 and 2000. Unlike these two previous collections this new CD does not contain any material from either Erik or Lana, but is in fact a compilation of tracks that have mainly been suggested, over the years, by friends, family and colleagues. Musically spanning those periods between the seventies and the nineties and encompassing a broad spectrum of material with some interesting selections, in the main confined to the progressive and classic rock genres.
The album opens in great style with Kansas' The Wall, taken from the classic Leftoverture album from 1976. A good choice to start the proceedings as The Wall is full of truly catchy vocal melodies, strong harmonies and memorable instrumentation, all of which are then encompassed in a strong song format. Great interpretation, a true compliment to the original and a pleasure to listen to.
So to Led Zeppelin's anthemic Kashmir from the Physical Graffitti album and debatably their most infectous riff (not necessarily their best, might I add). Unlike Dave, I only have one other copy of this track (the original), so I am perhaps not so tired of hearing this piece. Everytime I hear the opening bars of this song my heart lifts, sadly however, not enough happens for me throughout the remaining eight or so minutes to retain this feeling of euphoria. However, I would like to comment here on the excellent arrangement and production which recreates the symphonic texture of the track nicely. Gregg Bissonette captures the moment with his interpretation of John Bonham's inimitable style and huge sound. On a personal note I always thought Kashmir would have benefited from a lengthy solo section (perhaps something for the live shows).
On the surface Soaring may appear to be a straightforward ballad, however there are hidden flavours within the song structure. I have the advantage on Dave having heard the original, taken from Aviary's 2001 re-released album of the same name. The story of an aging soldier, the lyrics are thoughtful and the arrangement is lush and rich. Watch out for Mark's review of Aviary's Ambition album, coming soon.
Like Kashmir, Hold Your Head Up is another one of those tracks that always makes me stop and listen, as the distinctive Hammond organ sound and plodding bass line, herald the arrival of the song. I did have a few misgivings as to whether I would like the versions of such all time favourites, but I have to say so far that each portrayal has been excellent. I also took the opportunity to put the album through a large PA system - this track in particular rang out and added new life to the bass line. Taking up on Dave's comment about Erik's fine solo section here and if memory serves me, I have a version of Rod Argent doing an extended solo passage, so the live performance of Erik's solo bodes well.
So far so good, unfortunately the middle section of the album did not keep to the promises made by the first four songs. I should stress that this is a matter of personal taste, rather than a reflection on the material or the performances. Innocence, I'll See You In My Dreams, Northern Lights and Still Loving You are all strong, melodic rock ballads and all contain powerful arrangements, infectious melodies, huge choruses and complimentary solo sections. Whilst listening to Lana's rendition of Giant's I'll See You In My Dreams, I couldn't help wondering why she has not received wider recognition. Certainly the power and delivery should appeal to the masses who bought Heart's many such similar songs - Alone probably being the most obvious. I would like to apologise for the over generalisation of these songs, taken individually each had its own redeeming qualities, which were further enhanced by Erik Norlander's arrangements and thoughtful choice of sounds.
And finally to the conclusion of the Covers Collection and Rainbow's powerhouse rocker Stargazer. This track is full of great performances, Lana adding a new dimension to Dio's original vocal performance and Ed Warby has so precisely recreated and embelished Cozy Powell's thunderous drumming. Arjen Lucassen takes on the guitar mantle, the middle solo section is striking as firstly Arjen takes on Blackmore's parts, followed by an interesting and unusual cello solo from Cameron Stone, and last but not least Erik Norelander provides the final flourishes in this section. A rousing finale.
It is difficult to tell if some of the songs work better than others, or whether it is just the fact that I am personally more aquainted with some of the tracks. It is a testament to Lana Lane, Erik Norlander and assembled musicians that the album works so well together, taking the original artist's differing approaches and styles. This is a superb album with thoughtful arrangements, excellent production and a hugely impressive cast of musicians. But, and there is always a but, I did struggle whilst reviewing this album and in hindsight perhaps I should have passed it on to another reviewer. As mentioned earlier, the predominance, in the middle of the album, of what I would term as "power ballad" material (and there is no doubting Lana's mastery of this type of song), is just not my cup of tea. Highlights for me, were in particular, the first four tracks, Stargazer and Weep In Silence, which features another of Neil Citron's fine guitar solos.
The limited edition album comes in a fine gatefold presentation and featuring the superb artwork of Jacek Yerka that accompanies this (and of course other) Lana Lane albums.
Dave Sissons - 8 out of 10
Bob Mulvey - 7.5 out of 10
Erik Norlander - Music Machine
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2003|
|Time:||51:45 & 54:28|
CD1: Prologue: Project Blue Prince (3:38), Music Machine (6:39), Turn Me On (5:49), Heavy Metal Symphony (6:31), Tour Of The Sprawl (8:40), Andromeda (6:02), Letter From Space (3:16), Lost Highway (5:12), Soma Holiday (3:04), Return Of The Neurosaur (1:39), Project Blue Prince Reprise (1:12)
CD2: Fanfare And Interlude (3:04), Beware The Vampires (5:18), The Fire Of Change (7:53), The Fall Of The Idol (5:43), Metamorphosis (3:14), One Of The Machines (5:17), Fallen (5:13), Johnny America (6:35), Music Machine Reprise (1:53), Epilogue:Sky Full Of Stars (10:14)
Erik Norlander is a real busy bee, in the last 10 years he has been involved in over 30 albums, has produced and performed on a number of albums for his wife Lana Lane, is a member of the Rocket Scientists and appears on several of the Ayreon albums. Next to that he has previously released two solo albums: Threshold and Into The Sunset. And now his third solo album is released: Music Machine. As you might have noticed at DPRP we are giving this album some extra attention, with a Competition, concert review and a Duo CD Review.
Norlander's previous album did not really super impress me - I did like it but maybe it was a bit too tame for my taste. Something I most certainly will not say of this album, as it is certainly much more interesting. Again Norlander managed to get together a group of talented musicians: Kelly Keeling (Michael Schenker Group), Mark Boals (Yngwie Malmsteen, Ring Of Fire ), Robert Soeterboek (Ayreon), Peer Verschuren (Vengeance), Neil Citron (Lana Lane), Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio, Lana Lane), Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth, Steve Vai, ELO, Joe Satriani, etc.), Virgil Donati (Planet X, Ring of Fire, Steve Vai), Tony Franklin (The Firm, Blue Murder, Whitesnake, Lana Lane), Don Schiff (Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane), Donald Roeser (Blue Oyster Cult) and Scott Kail. Funny thing is that the one voice that really stands out for me is Scott Kail's, the only newcomer on the list. He has a high pitched voice that is not too slick and because of its raw edge, it makes a perfect metal voice. With such an impressive line-up the music "only" needs some good compositions.
With a large list of people working on a project developed by one man, it is easy to offer a comparison. And of course Norlander's work has a lot of similarities to that of Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Star One). I would say Arjen Lucassen is the Erik Norlander of guitar or (the other way around) Erik Norlander is the Arjen Lucassen of keyboards. Erik tends to use a touch more keyboards, which of course is understandable as keyboards are his main instrument.
Music Machine is a 2CD concept album. It is a futuristic story of the rise and fall of a genetically engineered super-star, Johnny America. Apart from the genetical engineering, this story is not too strange, it might well be happening while you read this review (spooky isn't it).
Prologue:Project Blue Prince from silence builds up to a large number of instruments, then the double bass drums take over and a sound like someone whistling, chases the more bombastic keyboard sounds. The theme from Music Machine is used a number of times on this album, which starts off with a bass sound from the keyboards, that together with the drums determine the tempo to the song. Guitars play an important role, but it is the vocals that are the best feature of this track. On Turn Me On it is the guitars and keyboards that take turn in importance but the drums are the highlight of this track - although the guitar and keyboard solo's take a good second place. The fanfare of Heavy Metal Symphony (played by the keyboards) is used throughout the complete track, which is not really a heavy metal song but it does have a rougher edge and with the vocal harmonies in the chorus being more to my liking. Tour Of The Sprawl is almost entirely constructed from the keyboards with the rhythmic loop making it similar in sound to a Jean Michel Jarre track.
On Andromeda the piano is used to accentuate the beat with a "rhythmic" loop and as the track builds nicely up to the chanting of the chorus (one word: Andromeda), which I liked. The instrumental Letter From Space has the melancholic sound of an early Vangelis piece, while Lost Highway could have been a Gary Moore song - which has his typical blues rock feel. Soma Holiday has a jazzy edge and halfway through, the theme to Project Blue Prince is used. Return Of The Neurosaur has a nice guitar solo of long stretched tones (and I like that, every album should have screaming guitars) that fades into Project Blue Prince Reprise, which is a re-visiting of the first track.
On CD2 Fanfare And Interlude begins with the "fanfare" theme of Heavy Metal Symphony but that's the only part copied from that song as it has an own melody, and once again the guitars with their nicely sustained notes, pre-empt the harpsichord and violin sounds. There's number of tempo changes in this interlude that then fade into Beware The Vampires which is a more "standard" rock song and the similarity to Ayreon is very obvious on this track. The Fire Of Change starts of with a Rhodes piano, but then changes into a song with pumping guitars, drum rhythms and loops of keyboards on the side. The Fall Of The Idol starts of with haunting, bombastic organ sounds, that are again accompanied by pumping heavy metal guitars. It is these guitars and the vocals of Marc Boals that reminded me of one of my youthful sins: Helloween. In contrast Metamorphosis' keyboard sounds conjured more of Vangelis' album Spiral and staying with these thoughts and strangely enough, the bass keyboard sound at the start of One Of The Machines reminded me of Earth, Wind & Fire (no not Earth & Fire). Luckily this comparison soon fades especially when Norlander kicks in one of his high pitched keyboard passages. On the ballad Fallen Scott Kail's voice is a bit too smooth for my taste, I like his other vocals on this album much better. Parts of Johnny America point back to Music Machine and special note should be made of Kelly Keeling's voice on this track, which are excellent. At the end a slow "When Johnny Come Marching Home" works up towards a speedy climax. Music Machine Reprise indeed is a reprise of Music Machine. Finally the Epilogue: Sky Full Of Stars is all keyboards with some guitar solos and it is a track to listen if you need to calm down: switch off the lights or close your eyes and just submerge.
There is a nice booklet that accompanies the limited edition of this album. Besides the lyrics, the story of "Johnny America" and the photographs, the last two pages are really interesting. On page one Erik Norlander explains his choice of music for both CD's; on one hand the album is prog metal oriented (like Into the Sunset) and on the other hand, the album is more traditionally prog rock (like Threshold). It seems to be the best way to keep the two groups of fans happy: the fans that keep asking for another Threshold and the fans that bought Into The Sunset and made that one a commercial success. If that was what Erik was trying to do then he did really succeed. It fits nicely to my taste this mix of "more traditional" prog rock and prog metal. Although I must say that the songs that I think were intended to be more metal could have been even a bit rougher. It also took me some time to get into the tracks on CD 2 while the tracks on CD 1 grabbed me much more easily, although even this one also did not go down readily on the first listen. It is my experience that albums that take some time to grow, also last must longer. All in all Erik Norlander has released an album that he can really be proud of.
The last page of the booklet is filled by Rick Wakeman, he compliments Erik: "It takes a brave man these days to stick by his musical beliefs. Erik has somehow always managed to achieve this and long may he continue to do so." So who am I to disagree with Rick Wakeman?
Rock opera’s ... I always consider that a dangerous career move for a band or artist. The risk is really high, two CD’s with a story to be told, and the music must be representative for the story as well. History has given us a few great ones; Savatage - Streets, Queensr˙che - Operation: Mindcrime, Ayreon- Into The Electric Castle and of course Dream Theater - Metropolis part II: Scenes From A Memory. (Tip for Rock opera lovers: Kiss - Music From The Elder!). The mother of all Rock opera’s or concept-albums to me is Jeff Wayne – War of The Worlds, I don’t think there is or will be an album that can top that one. So when I received Erik Norlander’s double CD album and read the story I had my doubts already.
With an unbelievable list of participating musicians my expectations rose and rose; Gregg Bissonette, Tony Franklin, Virgil Donati, Buck Dharma, Robert Soetebroek and many other high quality musicians; a very promising factor.
Norlander chose to do this album without a narrator but I think to this story it is kind of necessary. The concept is interesting; about a genetically engineered rock star (Idols – the Rock edition?), who rises and falls back. Certainly the music is well written and performed, Prog Rock and Metal combined, with great performances of all participating musicians, especially the guitarists Neil Citron, Buck Dharma and Peer Verschuren who all get surprisingly lots of space between Norlander’s flashy keyboards. The vocal arrangements are superb as well, so no problem there. Of course, Erik Norlanders’ talent and skills are fantastic, he has a 25 album history behind him already with solo albums, Lana Lane, Ayreon, Rocket Scientists and more. But Music Machine misses something; the right atmosphere to bring the story to life. No distinctive soundscapes, no narrations and the three singers, Mark Boals, Kelly Keeling and Robert Soetebroek can’t bring the characters to life enough to my taste. I want to be pulled into the story and ‘see’ things happen, like reading a book.
Take note: the songwriting is good, throughout the whole double CD, but a rock opera has to offer more than just that. Stand out songs are Letter From Space, the two Project Blue Prince songs, The Fire Of Change and the closing epic Sky Full Of Stars. I guess there are more treasures to be found but that will need some digging, dig it?
The ‘original wizard of the keyboards’, Rick Wakeman, provided a nice liner note and one of the things he says is “It will take numerous listenings in order to absorb all the intricacies and nuances that appear throughout. This is perhaps for me one of the joys of this music.” My final judgement leaves room for this, I will play the Music Machine over and over. Ask me again in a few months, maybe I will come back on my grade for the album, I hope I will actually. You won’t be disappointed when you’re into rock opera’s I’m very sure.
Dries Dokter - 8 out of 10
Winston Arntz - 6 out of 10
Colin Bass - In the Meantime
Tracklist: Dissident Song (5:19), So Hard To Say Goodbye (8:57), As We Say Goodbye (4:13), Slow Train Blues (4:43), Talk To Me (5:38), In The Meantime (4:35), Bridge Of Sighs (1:05), When Will You Ever Learn? (8:58), One Small Moment (3:06)
In progressive rock circles, Colin Bass is better known for his work since 1979 within the Camel
framework as well as performances with musicians such as Steve Hillage and Tim Hardin. Go to the Far East, especially Indonesia where he is better known as Sabah Habas Mustapha, and is recognised as one of the top pop-song composers there. With In The Meantime it seems that Colin Bass has merged both musical styles to come up with an album that cannot in reality be considered as a progressive rock album, yet on the other hand, just cannot be dismissed because of the sheer quality and evoking tunes it possesses.
Tracks like the opening Dissident Song (based on the events in Tianneman Square), have an acoustic rock style that gives the album a feel good factor, ambling along at a most pleasant pace with catchy hooks and that slight commercial touch. On pieces such as So Hard To Say Goodbye, one can glimpse at hints of latter-day Camel. In fact this particular track could easily have fit on A Nod And A Wink with it's bluesy laid-back nature. Blues is a style that often surfaces on this album on tracks such as Slow Train Blues though one should also add that there is a jazz-lounge feel to it too.
Something that can definitely be attributed to this album, is the calm and soothing nature that prevails
throughout the whole of the album. The acoustic style is endearing to the listener as is Bass' soothing voice with
a strong British sense of melancholy, beautifully portrayed on tracks such as Talk To Me as well as on the
mellotron drenched instrumental Bridge Of Sighs. When Will You Ever Learn? is one of the album
highlights, mainly because it is one of the few pieces which has Bass creating an amount of variety within the same track. Starting off with a by-now characteristic and languid style the guitar solo has a much more rock defined feel and the track reverts to a more upbeat and jazzier feel rather than the acoustic laid-back nature with which it had started.
With One Small Moment this delightful album comes to a close. As I mentioned earlier, there is little of
progressive rock value to the first time listener expecting the complexity of a Camel album. However, this is
definitely an album which should please most if not all mainly because of it's simple and warm approach. The
production is excellent complementing the compositions to perfection. This is one for listening to with a glass of
wine and a cosy fireplace!
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Akacia - An Other Life
Tracklist: An Other Life (i. An Other Day, ii. Dust You Are, iii. Your Calling, iv. I Look Out, v. No Other Life) (16:36), Mary (6:41), Hold Me (11:02), Journal (i. The High Call Of Gog, ii. Dance Of Days, iii. The Visceral Melee, iv. Weight Of Glory, v. The Beatific Vision, vi. Mystery, vii. sands, viii. Insufficient Gratitude) (22:41)
|Country of Origin:||Canada|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4515.AR|
|Year of Release:||2003|
An Other Life is the debut album from American quartet (although they have recently added a fifth member) Akacia. The brainchild of Michael Tenenbaum, the band unashamedly take their influences and base their sound on 70's progressive stalwarts such as Yes, Genesis and King Crimson although are not afraid to take inspiration from newer bands such as Spock's Beard and The Flower Kings. However, that is not to say that the group sound like any of these bands as in the two year's of their existence they have managed to formulate their own sound.
With four tracks spread out over almost one hour, there is plenty of scope for the band to explore a variety of musical styles and tempos. The music employs a degree of subtlety that is wrapped in dramatic highs and plaintive lows giving an overall sound that, at times, sounds as if they are jamming around a groove (the end of Hold Me and sections of Journal being prime examples). In Michael Tennenbaum, Akacia not only have a fine writer, but also a very competent musician whose guitar work is at times exciting, subtle, powerful and even exploratory. Tennenbaum also contributes the keyboard parts but it is evident that the guitar is his prime instrument as there is a certain bias towards the stringed instrument throughout the album with relatively few keyboard breaks, the keys mainly adding shade and texture to the songs. However, the recent addition of keyboardist Dave Stratton to the line-up could hail a more prominent keyboard role on the new material currently being recorded for the band's second album, tentatively titled The Brass Serpent.
As for the other members of the band, vocalist Eric Naylor sounds, at times, uncannily similar to John Sloman when he was a member of Lone Star, particularly when he hits the higher registers; bassist Steve Stortz plays some pretty fluid runs, and at times is utilised as a lead instrument carrying the melody and driving the song forward, while drummer Doug Meadows, with years of experience and professional training behind him, is adaptable and solid providing a strong framework which the other band members can build upon. Most of the group members are multi-instrumentalists which considerably widens their musical options and must be useful in concert, as one couldn't hope to assemble a more competent bunch of musicians.
The major drawback to the album, and this is just personal preference, are some of the lyrics. Being a group of Christians the lyrics are reflective of their beliefs but often stick to 'standard' religious themes. This is not a criticism as such, just an observation that over-emphasising personal beliefs, be they religious or political, can potentially alienate sections of an audience. However, with the majority of each of the songs on the album being instrumental, this is not really too much of an issue and the group has the potential, like that other Christian progger Geoff Mann, to cross over to a wider, more secular audience.
On the whole, Akacia have delivered a strong debut album that will appeal to a wide variety of progressive fans.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Joop Wolters - Workshop
Tracklist: Tibet (3:23), Funk It Up (2:36), Cross My Heart (4:26), I Don’t Know (3:02), Headstart (3:50), Prelude For Comfort (3:52), Syntology (4:22), Endless Love (4:23), Flamoose (3:39)
Joop Wolters is the guitarist for both Dutch power-metal band Arabesque, who have released three albums to date, and a jazz/ fusion/ rock outfit called Elysion. Various guitarists, such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Morse, Steve Vai and Alan Holdsworth, are cited as his personal influences, so this gives some indication of what direction you might expect this solo CD to take. One listen to the opening track, and these suspicions are confirmed – this is indeed a ‘guitarist wig-out’ album.
In general I’m a little sceptical about these; there are some fantastic albums in the genre – Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien immediately comes to mind – but all too often they are just an excuse for the guitarist to show off their technical know-how – very interesting for like-minded fellow guitarists no doubt, but infuriating and dull for the average listener.
In his favour, Wolters does try his hand at a number of styles – Tibet has a slight eastern vibe, Funk It Up has (surpise!) a funk-rock flavour, whilst I Don’t Know has a more driving, hard rock feel. The problem is that these individual tracks are all too often just starting points for Wolters to noodle and shred away on a variety of guitars, often to little effect. As in many albums of this type, many of the tracks aren’t really ‘songs’ at all, often just having a single main melody line and a very loose structure, and therefore not really engaging the listener in any way. I guess the title of the album should be a warning!
Wolters puts in his best work on the slower numbers; Cross My Heart has some nice clavinet-style keyboards and a melancholy feel, with the inevitable guitar solo’s actually adding something to the track, whilst Prelude For Comfort is pleasingly laid-back with some good blues-style playing.
Overall then, a competent yet run-of-the-mill guitar instrumental album that really is only likely to appeal to the most ardent fans of this genre – and even they might be put off by the short running time.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10
Tom De Val