Reviews in this issue:
Jing Chi - 3D
Tracklist: Colonel Panic (5:15), Chi Town (6:05), [3hui (Good Men) (1:44)], Move On (4:00), [Zest (0:19)], Hidden Treasure (6:23), [Ki 3i (All Things Are Well Established) (1:12)], Time Is A Magazine (4:38), Mezzanine Blues (5:10), Blues Alley (7:40), [3in (The Sun Shines Clear And Bright) (0:59)], It's Nobody's Fault But Mine (13:22), [Wires (1:16)], Tangled Up (6:04)
Tracks in square brackets are ambient linking pieces
Jing Chi are a veritable supergroup comprising a trio of top-notch musicians whose combined CV reads like an A to Z of popular music. Bassist and ringleader Jimmy Haslip started his career in Tommy Bolin's band of the mid 1970s and has since contributed to albums by the likes of Steely Dan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Rod Stewart and Cher. Guitarist Robben Ford has bent the old six string for the likes of Joni Mitchell, Little Feet and Ricki Lee Jones as well as being a prolific solo artist, while drummer Vinnie Colaiuta is ubiquitous: Frank Zappa, Sting, Stevie Nicks, John McLaughlin and Chick Corea (to name but a few) have all benefited from his precise and inventive playing.
The trio came together in 2001 to release their self-titled debut album which was followed up by a live album in 2003. For the latest release, the band have gone for a harder edged approach, drawing influence from '60s rock icons Cream, Hendrix's Band Of Gypsies and The Allman Brothers. The result is eight original instrumentals and a remarkable cover version of Blind Willie Johnson's 1927 classic It's Nobody's Fault But Mine, where the trio are joined by blues icon Robert Cray who sings and adds additional guitar. The album niftily defies categorisation, incorporating blues, rock, tinges of fusion and elements of the jam-based bands resulting in a collection of tunes that will find favour across a broad spectrum of musical disciplines.
Opener Colonel Panic sets a heavy tone where the Cream influences stand out and superbly displays the individual talents of the three protagonists - it's as if all three decided to play a solo for five minutes and then they combined the results (indeed, it's the only track where all three musicians are credited as composers). Chi Town is rather mellower with flowing guitar lines from Ford underpinned by some simple synth lines played by Haslip. Move On is a simple, melodic tune, in complete contrast to the fusion drenched Hidden Treasure on which the renowned Larry Goldings guests on organ. Time Is A Magazine takes King Crimson's Red as a template, twisting it about resulting in another heavier number with funky overtones. On this track Ford's wah-wah pedal is put into overdrive and he even loans it to Haslip who dishes out some amazing bass playing.
A couple of blues numbers takes the tempo down a notch with Ford once again taking the plaudits for his work on Mezzanine Blues (which also features the soprano sax of Steve Tavaglione) and Larry Goldings making his organ's presence known on Blues Alley. The extended nature of It's Nobody's Fault But Mine means that, despite being the only track to feature vocals, the majority of the song is actually instrumental. Ford and Cray combine well with some precise playing that manages to maintain a loose, jamming feel to it. Thrown into the mix are some rather ambient textures and also a further nod to Cream with the inclusion of the guitar riff to Spoonful midway through the song. Tangled Up ends the album as it began, a charged instrumental that more than adequately demonstrates just how good the three musicians are and how well the combine.
All-in-all an exciting album of superb playing demonstrating why Ford, Colaiuta and Haslip are amongst the most in-demand session musicians. Despite the antipathy of some people towards instrumental music, 3D is worthy of a place in the record collections of a wide cross selection of music lovers.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ayreon - Loser [Single]
Tracklist: Loser (Star One Version) (3:35), How You Gonna See Me Now (Acoustic CoverVersion) (3:51), Into The Black Hole (Acoustic Live Version) (4:25), Castle Hall (Acoustic Version) (4:07)
The second single to come off the Human Equation album is a true collector's item: all four tracks are previously unreleased versions two of which were especially recorded for this single.
The track Loser is, as the liner notes say, 'based' on the track Day Sixteen: Loser, off The Human Equation, and it is basically a re-recording of the track, though Mike Baker's vocals are still the same as on the album version. It is dubbed the "Star One version", as the music is played by the Star One band: Arjen Lucassen on guitar, Ed Warby on Drums, Joost van den Broek on keyboards and Peter Vink on bass. 'Based on' basically means that it is a shorter version of the track, more rock, less folk and less instrumental passages. The Ken Hensley hammond solo has been replaced by a nice keyboard-guitar duel between Joost and Arjen, and basically the only negative comment I can give over this new version, in relation to the album version, is that it is awfully short. Now I know that radio edits are supposed to be short, but with Ayreon's music this means that you have an awful lot to digest in a short period of time. And part of that digestion is the menacing ending of the track, sung, no screamed, by Devin Townsend.
The second track is a relatively unknown ballad by Alice Cooper. I say relatively unknown, because this song was Cooper's biggest hit in Holland, yet it is practically unheard elsewhere. Both Mike Baker and Arjen Lucassen are huge Alice Cooper fans, so it was only natural to cover a song of his, just like Eric Clayton did Space Oddity on the previous single. Unlike Space Oddity, this version stays relatively close to the original, replacing the piano by an acoustic guitar. And although this is dubbed "acoustic cover version" it still contains some pretty electric synthesiser effects and an electric guitar solo.
Into The Black Hole was recorded at the Human Equation pre-release party in Utrecht, on April 18th of this year. I was there that afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the short acoustic set that was played by Arjen Lucassen and friends. What I did not realise due to the over-crowdedness of the place was how well these acoustic versions actually sounded. After hearing Into The Black Hole on this single I can only hope that they will release the entire concert in some format real soon!
It is sung by Irene Jansen, and while I'm no big fan of her voice on The Human Equation, I have to say that she does an excellent job following in the footsteps of Bruce Dickinson and Damian Wilson who both did a take on the song on earlier albums.
The last track is an acoustic version of Castle Hall, which was recorded for radio promotion, and it features once again Irene Jansen on vocals, as well as Dewi Kersten on cello and former Quidam flutist 'Mrs DPRP' Ewa Albering on flute.
As always in our genre, this single is aimed mainly at the fanbase, but in this case Arjen Lucassen has done pretty much everything possible to please his fans. Heartily recommended!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
James Band - The Electric Eel Has Got Me By The Brain Banana
Tracklist: The Love Song Of J.F. Sebastian (19:11), Still Breathing (3:11), Nothing Song (3:38), Take A Stress Pill And Think Things Over (1:23), Dodgy (The Colour Of The Sun) (2:34), Ignorance Is Bliss (6:10), Closer To The End (1:32), More Ignorance (0:56), Uhmm... (3:48), Another Quote (5:09), James Is Dead (4:43), Coaster (12:45)
A few years ago I reviewed the debut album of Norwegian foursome James Band, one of the more interesting bands to have emerged in recent years. To start the review of their new album I have to go back to the review of their previous album; I concluded my review of It's Been Done with: "Fantastic music, destroyed by poor vocals. Their whole attitude towards the music they make is very commendable, and they deserve to be heard. So for people who don't mind a poor vocalist so much, this CD offer a great collection of great music, with a wide variety of styles". The new album is exactly that, and a little bit more.
The album is bookended by two epics, of which the first The Love Song of J.F. Sebastian will definitely rank high in my personal top 5 of best songs of 2004; it combines the best of early seventies Genesis with late sixties psychedelia, yet in such an original matter that is literally unheard of. If you want comparisons, the best I can do is The Doors, playing Genesis, with The Doors reference there for the church organ being the band's main instrument of choice. But writing the song off as a Genesis clone would not do the composition do proper justice. Sure it borrows riffs and styles from songs like The Battle Of Epping Forest and The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, yet it also contains such brilliant organ arrangements (kudos to organist Louis Holbrook), such well-thought transitions and time signature changes (and loads of them too) and clever lyrics that it is easy enough to look past any over-obvious references.
The second epic on the album Coaster is yet another roller-coaster ride of a song. While The Love Song of J.F. Sebastian is dominated by various types of organ, it is the guitars that get to speak in this song, making it a terrific rock track, which musically sounds quite like some of the work of Porcupine Tree.
The long, mellow, instrumental mid-section sounds to me a lot like a cross between the music on Roger Waters' Amused To Death and Pros and Cons albums. Great atmospheric synthesiser melodies with acoustic guitar and a soloing electric guitar.
In between the two are 10 shorter songs, ranging from one-and-a-half to six minutes. And with that, they are also ranging from typical album filler -such as the one tone organ piece Take A Stress Pill And Think Things Over, or the half-finished song idea of Uhm...- to true gems like Ignorance is Bliss. The latter is actually three songs, as Closer To The End and More Ignorance continue in the same musical vein (making it the third epic of the album). It is a great psychedelic rock song, once again dominated by the terrific organ work by Holbrook.
Other good tracks are Nothing Song is a pretty straightforward rocker, once again resembling The Doors, but with heavier guitars, and Another Quote, a heavy rocker with good multiple vocal melodies. Dodgy (The Colour Of The Sun) is also a nice little tune. It is an uptempo rocksong with a distinct sixties feel, which reminds me of Hendrix.
Like the previous album the music lacks a consistent quality and the wide variety of style somewhat kills the cohesion on the album.
The other thing that echoes the previous album is the lead-singer. While certainly not as bad as on the preliminary album, there are songs where Trond Breen's vocal style is very difficult to get into. Some may say his singing style is genius, yet to me it borders on being out of tune and in otherwise fine songs like Still Breathing or James Is Dead his vocals are a rather disturbing factor to the music.
This album is a good example of what producers are for. The album is produced by singer Trond Breen and while his sound production is impeccable (roaring organs and guitars, fat bass, the whole kit and caboodle), it is the choice of songs which could have benefited from an independent producer. Had the Ballad of J.F.S., the Ignorance is Bliss trilogy and Coaster been released as an EP (perhaps with the addition of Another Quote and Nothing Song) it would have received a big fat DPRP recommended tag, but in this state I cannot do so.
Having said that, the opening track is worth the price of a CD alone, so if you come across this album, you could do worse than purchasing it.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Toyah - Ophelia's Shadow
Tracklist: Ophelia's Shadow (5:54), The Shamen Says (5:23), Brilliant Day (2:39), Prospect (3:13), Turning Tide (5:40), Take What You Will (5:42), Ghost Light (4:28), The Women Who Had An Affair With Herself (4:17), Homeward (5:16), Lords Of The Never Known (4:32)
We recently received three CD's from the Voiceprint Label, two re-releases and one new album, which span Toyah Willcox's (more serious musical) career. To say I struggled with these albums would be an understatement, but sadly not for the right reasons. Pre-conceptions and bias clouded the issue rather than any appraisal of the music. How could Toyah feature in a serious progressive rock Ezine? How might our readers view the inclusion of her material? Will I ever be taken seriously again? So when I say that each time one of these CD's found their way into my CD player, I was less than enamoured with the prospect of repeated listenings or even committing my time to evaluating the music. However mindful that the general view of progressive rock is surrounded by ignorance, bias and narrow-mindedness I delved into the music with (hopefully) a more open mind.
Eventually and after much listening, I reached the conclusion that only one of the three albums contained enough "progressive elements" to be of possible interest to our readers - Ophelia's Shadow. I was mindful that it may be viewed that I had selected this album because much of it had been co-written with Robert Fripp, or that it featured fellow King Crimson bass man Trey Gunn and although I cannot discount this as a major factor, it was in fact the material that eventually made my decision - and yes it does sound very much like a King Crimson album albeit with female vocals.
Robert Fripp's engaging and uniquely fluid guitar style, off beat rhythms are nicely counterbalanced by Toyah's voice. The arrangements although instantly recognisable are less aggressive than those employed in KC and again more suited to the Toyah's vocal tones. Toyah's voice works extremely well in the main, my only criticism is when it drifts back to those more commercial 80's phrasings as in Brilliant Day, Prospect and Lords Of The Never Known. Contrasting this would be the more fluid performance in Ophelia's Shadow, or the more theatrical vocals of The Women Who Had An Affair With Herself. Worth noting here that at the time of Ophelia's Shadow life was somewhat more settled and happier time for Ms Willcox, and this is reflected within the lyrics - gone is the anger of Prostitute, but drawing from her acting and literary skills the words still remain observant and thoughtful.
As with any album that features the writing of Robert Fripp there is no way in which his influence can be disguised and it was therefore difficult to view this as a merely a Toyah solo release - and it does make you wonder whether this album was the pre-cursor to an ongoing 'live' and recording venture. If we add Trey Gunn and Paul Beavis into the melting pot this could well have been an extremely interesting project.
The tracks that appealed least (mentioned above) were those which echoed back to the more commercial 80's vocal performances, with the possible exception of Homeward, with its more unique combination of styles - a funky Camel-like rhythm bordering on a 70's disco groove and with touches of KC's eccentricity. The strongest songs for me were the percussive Turning Tide, The Shamen Says and the title track Ophelia's Shadow.
Briefly before concluding this review, mention of the other two CD's which arrived. The re-released Prostitute (1998) was a landmark album for Toyah full of pent up emotions and lyrically a savage backlash at those who were manipulating not only her career but also intruding upon her private life. Musically I found it to be very indicative of the 80's albeit without the usual crass commercial production and although two tracks were co-written with Robert Fripp I deemed it of little interest to our readers. The Velvet Lined Shell [EP] her latest offering brings us up to date and sees a maturity of writing style, commercial but with a distinct edge. Instantly recognisable as Toyah but a far cry from the singer I remember. Again the straightforward song structures and overall writing style suggested that this would be of minimal interest to DPRP readers.
Ophelia's Shadow has not been available for quite some time, its re-release marks the return of a pair of albums to Toyah and as part of the "settlement between Robert Fripp and Virgin after a lengthy legal battle between Robert and his former label and management company - the label and Management company shared by Toyah".
In conclusion, it could be all to easy to say that Ophelia's Shadow would mainly be of interest to King Crimson completists, but there is more to this album than just this. Granted a liking for the music of KC would be almost essential if you were to consider purchasing this CD, however, it is an album well worth investigating further.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
A Sparrow~grass Hunt – Le Journal du Dormeur
Tracklist: Overture (3:11), Crepuscule [Le Fleuve – 1] (4:02), The Architect (2:39), Le Dement [Les Crocodiles Gris – 1] (2:35), Hyperdelic (5:48), Sarbacane (2:40), La Marbre [La Bete & Le Marbre – 1) (3:23], The Mermaid (5:11), China Dream (1:03), Les Crocodiles Gris [reprise] (2:39), Le Silence sous les Foundations (3:54), La Bete [La Bete & Le Marbre – 2] (3:26), La Voleuse de Champignons (2:05), Constellations [La Fleuve – 2] (4:03), Les Eaux Sombres [Les Crocodiles Gris – 2] (3:20), Le Demi-Dieu (1:58), Sarbacane [reprise] (2:40), Eveil (2:16)
The intriguingly named A Sparrow-grass Hunt are a trio who describe their debut album A Journal du Dormeur as a ‘musical illustration of authentic dreams, spoken or sung on melancholic musical atmospheres’ to ‘create a soundtrack of a cloudy night’. This is not actually a bad description – this is a relaxing album obviously designed for late night listening, especially given how quiet everything is – unless you turn the sound up, you’d get the impression that pretty much nothing is happening.
That wouldn’t be an entirely fair conclusion to draw, but there’s no doubt this veers towards new age ambience in places – evocative, sometimes haunting soundscapes created by acoustic guitar, piano, synths and (intermittently) violin (courtesy of guest musician Rosalie Hartog) rule the roost, creating such a soothing, low key atmosphere that the presence of some fairly unobtrusive electronic percussion on Hyperdelic almost comes as some sort of rude awakening. Over this backdrop are layered the vocals of Liesbeth Hoiudijk and Pierre-Yves Lebeau; the latter’s voice is more pleasing, ranging from using her voice as another instrument (a similar tactic to that used by Karda Estra) to a more vibrant, vaguely operatic vocal. Lebeau mostly just speaks his lines (usually in French, although also at times in strongly accented English), and unfortunately I found that this rather detracts from the relaxed atmosphere created by the music.
Overall, A Sparrow-grass Hunt have created a pleasant, if inessential, work which is a nice alternative to the more, well, vibrant material I usually listen to, and its good for winding down to at the end of the day. Just don’t put the record on if it’s imperative that you stay awake, as you might find your eyelids drooping about half-way through!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Eric Renard - Rêve Errance
Tracklist: Avis de tempête (2:56), Image In (3:10), Swing off (3:16), Envie sauvage (4:47), Vent d'ouest (3:34), Rêve Errance (3:49), Douce Amer (0:36), Parfum d'orient (4:41), Que vienne le bal (4:18), Vagues à l’âme (4:49), Eau de La (4:21), Celtica (1:36)
The career of Eric Renard began towards the end of the 1970s with bands such as Belle De Jour, Farenheit, Highway and Owl, all of which have eluded me. At the time of writing this review the website for Eric Renard appears to be down (and has been for some time), so I can add little else by the way of background information.
The twelve compositions that comprise Rêve Errance are all written, programmed, produced and played by Renard - therefore the album is fairly uniform across its entire length. The tempos remain rather military and plodding, with a backwash of lush strings and occasional piano providing most of the backing. Over this rich bed of sound Renard alternates between guitar theme/solo to keyboard theme/solo - this formula is adopted pretty much from track one to track twelve and as result the music has little in the way of ebb and flow. The selection of keyboard lead sounds doesn't particularly help much either, leaving much to be desired and in general the rather irritating brassy sounds do become wearing. The guitar tone is distinctly better being warm and full, but once again never really changing that much.
The final ingredient is of course Eric Renard's guitar work, which although competent never drifts much away from "safe". The performances, are again uniform - I remember the first time I listened to this album and as each track passed I kept thinking, this must be the one he will let loose on ! Then the album was finished - somewhat of a missed opportunity. Now I know it is not necessary to introduce an array of fretboard gymnastics to show what a guitarist is capable of, (Dave Gilmour being the supreme example), however I doubt very much he would have stayed with these similar phrasings throughout the entirety of an album.
Sadly this album seldom lifts its head above mediocre and as it is probably abundantly clear by now that Rêve Errance did little for me and I shall therefore break with tradition and keep my review brief.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10