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Reviews in this issue:
Steve Hackett - Once Above A Time
Tracklist: Valley Of The Kings (5:37), Mechanical Bride (6:59), Circus Of Becoming (3:09), Frozen Statues (3:48), Slogans (4:02), Serpentine Song (7:13), Ace Of Wands (6:35), Hammer In The Sand (4:02), Blood On The Rooftops (5:55), Fly On A Windshield (3:04), Please Don’t Touch (3:57), Firth Of Fifth (4:03),If You Can’t Find Heaven (3:27), Darktown (5:33), Brand New (5:49), Air-Conditioned Nightmare (4:08), Every Day (6:30), Clocks (5:46), Spectral Mornings (5:46), Los Endos (8:13)
Recorded earlier this year in Budapest, Once Above A Time sees Steve Hackett and his band regaling us with another DVD release, this accompanying the Live Archive 04 release which has already been reviewed on DPRP in the last few weeks. Over the last couple of years, it seems that the Steve Hackett management have taken the step of making full use of the various technologies available in bringing the artist and his band as close as possible to the fans with a number of DVD releases having already taken place. Furthermore, each release seems to get better and better with the picture and sound clarity (especially the digital surround) as well as various camera angles increased, especially over the Somewhere In South America release.
I will not delve deeply into the music as the music is the same as the Live Archive 04 double CD release yet there are definitely a number of points that need to be made. Having had the pleasure of working with and getting to know this band personally I feel that there are a number of factors that need to be mentioned. Within the Steve Hackett band there exists a camaraderie which is evident throughout the show and which is often captured on camera both during the concert as well as during the bonus footage of the Backstage In Budapest feature. An example is the interaction between Roger King and Rob Townsend during most of the concert from opposite sides of the stage. Seeing these musicians, especially Steve Hackett, really enjoying themselves whilst onstage and being able to create such adventurous music with extreme precision is indeed a pleasure.
What Steve Hackett does in this live release (as he has been doing for a number of years now!) is combine both his latest recordings with his older material, both solo and Genesis. However, one also realises that here we have a craftsman who has managed to blend all the musical styles which have evolved over the years and brought them alongside each other in a seamless fashion.
Of course this live release would be nothing without the contribution of the excellent backing band that Hackett has managed to bring together. In fact the line-up is that which played on the last album To Watch The Storms and includes Terry Gregory (bass), Gary O' Toole (drums), Rob Townsend (sax, flute, percussion) and Roger King (keyboards) who could be described as Hackett's chief musical collaborator. What makes this line-up so exciting is that the various band members seem to have different schools of influence which help create a varied interpretation of the various classical tracks. Furthermore, there seems to be a strong jazz approach to the way much of the material is played with at times the band going into what could be described as free form improvisations. The addition of Townsend seems to have added an extra dimension to Hackett's music allowing the music to flow in directions that though different from their original format really take on a new breath of life..
Once Above A Time is the definite Steve Hackett live DVD that one should possess. The music (already rated as a 9/10 when released as CD) is fantastic and the visuals are great with the cues absolutely on time allowing the viewer to get a glimpse from all angles of the stage at the various musicians while they go through the set. The additional bonus material Backstage In Budapest shows the band are as they prepare to go onstage from the time they leave their hotel to the time they walk on to the stage and how they kill time in that interim period (the footage of Steve Hackett dancing is something that most people would not have imagined to see!). For all you Hackett (and Genesis) fans - Xmas has arrived a few weeks early.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
King's X - Live All Over The Place
DISC 1: Groove Machine (4:10), Dogman (4:19), Believe (6:40), Little Bit of Soul (4:48), Complain (3:16), Over My Head (8:16), Manic Depression (5:38), Black Like Sunday (3:40), Finished (4:01), Screamer (4:30), Johnny (8:21)
DISC 2: The Difference (3:51), [Thinking and Wondering] What I'm Gonna Do (4:06), Mr. Evil (4:10), Mississippi Moon (3:44), Goldilox (5:02), Everybody Knows a Little Bit (4:15), A Box (4:06), Talk to You (4:50), Visions (6:03), Cigarettes (8:28), Summerland (3:47), We Were Born to Be Loved (5:49), Moan Jam (11;18), Over My Head (5:25) [bonus track]
These three guys should have been the biggest thing of the 1990's, like Cream in the 60's and ZZ Top in the 70's. Instead of being distributed to the public, they became the fuel that inspired all the shallow corporate-rock bands whose members heard them. It is not an overstatement to declare that King's X is one of the five most influential power trios in rock history. But no thanks is due to bean counters in the record industry: King's X has been the unwanted foster child, shuffled from one record company to another for 15 years settling for the crumbs while lesser artists got the meat, until finally being adopted by InsideOut records (the patron saint of progressive music). While the band has had 11 releases in its 17 year recording history - with a live album way overdue - it has rarely seen more than three releases by any one label. And that's the reason Live All Over The Place is a near miraculous feat. Getting through the licensing paperwork for all these songs must have been a major headache.
The last time this writer heard something new on the radio that I wanted to hear again, it was in 1989 and the songs were Over My Head and Summerland by King's X (played back-to-back on a college radio station). "Wow, this is a great guitar riff, heavy as a tank", I thought. "That singer has got to be a blood relative of James Brown, and those other guys sing like The Beatles!" And the bass player: "Well he's no Billy Sheehan, but he has that tone NAILED!" I haven't heard a cooler bass tone ever, before or after. Then came the guitar solo. "The fire of early Eric Clapton combined with Billy Gibbons, with an ungodly tone and feel!" What no one knew then, but everybody found out later, was one of the keys to that grinding sound: Drop tuning. That's right, YEARS before the Korns and Creeds started jamming in garages.
A lot of folks say King's X is not progressive rock, and that is a true statement by some definitions. For example, their songs are not long - very few 'epics' in their catalogue. No keyboards, not even part-time (as in Rush or Led Zeppelin). Pretty straightforward hard rock feel, with some beautiful ballads. And their lyrics reflect personal introspection laced with more than a hint of Christian angst. In other words, King's X had all the ingredients that should have satisfied The Record Company's checklist. Maybe they were too ahead of their time. Maybe they refused to compromise on some of their songs. Maybe they weren't cute enough. For whatever reason, they remained underground - and maybe that's why prog fans adopted them. After all, they do have one quality that prog fans value above all else: Their music is for LISTENING, not for background at parties and offices. Their later associations with Dream Theater and Rod Morgenstein certainly didn't hurt King's X's reputation with fans, either.
And now (finally), about this just-released live album...First the packaging: Standard double CD jewel case, five long shots of the band onstage, a close-up of each member, and NO credits or booklet. Perhaps it was purposely left out of the promo copy.
Now, the music: It is good! This is a true live recording, with no overdubs or corrections - the guys were sticklers about presenting an authentic live experience. It reminds me a lot of a bootlegged on-air 'simulcast' concert from the early 90's I heard, except the vocals are much clearer. One group of tracks (1 through 5 on Disc 2) are billed as an 'acoustic' set, but what they really are is songs with three-part harmonies and the amps turned way down. Not literally acoustic, but more enjoyable than I thought they were going to be for that very reason.
This is a must for the King's X fan. However, be warned: Everyone is going to find some tracks they think should have been substituted with something better - myself included. Agonizing over which songs to eliminate is the price a band pays when they release a live album, when they have a very large back catalogue .
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Riverside - Out Of Myself
Tracklist: The Same River (12:01), Out Of Myself (3:43), I Believe (4:14), Reality Dream I (6:15), Loose Heart (4:50), Reality Dream II (4:45), In Two Minds (4:38), The Curtain Falls (7:59), OK (4:46)
In the last few months there has been a lot of talk of a new Polish band: Riverside. Just have a look at our Forum and see that their name is mentioned more than a few times, and in fact it was on the suggestion of one of our readers, that I got to review this album. Progressive rock fans have given this album a lot of word of mouth and because of this Riverside is somewhat of a hype in prog rock circles and maybe because of this hype The Laser's Edge signed Riverside. This, however, put me in a strange dilemma: the album I am reviewing is not the version released by them but the version before that, released by Sony Music in Poland. Of course this occurs more often, but this time the release by The Laser's Edge is accompanied by new booklet artwork and as I understand the album also has been re-mastered. I will just review the 'older' version as that is the one I have here.
I should elaborate on the term: hype. It has a negative ring, because most of the time it means something is in the news often, while it does not deserve to be, it's fame is exaggerated. Well not in this case. Riverside has every right to the attention they are getting at the moment. If you can dish up a debut album like this, then all attention is well deserved.
Some describe this band as not being original but I do not agree with them at all. Just to give some idea of their style - Marillion, Pink Floyd and (late) Anathema can be mentioned but I don't think any of these could have created this album. It is kind of a blend of their sounds but that, in my opinion, makes it 'the Riverside sound'. Some of the band members have a history in metal but (luckily?) not much of that is to be heard in this album. This is progressive rock in all it's facets, long wining guitars, smart loops, a number of tempo changes in each song added with that a crossover here and there to alternative: I fell in love with this album instantly.
Riverside is able to create that kind of progrock that is complicated enough but nothing more than that, making it accessible to many progrock lovers. It is original but not in a way that it alienates people, so it does not take too long to get acquainted to their music. Less is more, is the motto these guys certainly live by. Balancing the instruments makes none of them really take the lead although the guitar really hit one of my soft spots: the long, weeping, long stretched high guitar notes.
A short track-by-track review: The Same River, has a dreamy and hazy sound. The scarce vocals on this track are whispered or are mixed way in the back with distortion added to the aforementioned sound. It is a magnificent track and, despite it's length, over too soon. Although they are good on every track in this album, take particular note of Piotr Kozieradzki drums on this track. Out Of Myself is the highlight of the album, whispered vocals that linger in your head for about a week, lifting to powerful vocals where the music is more powerful too. I Believe is proof that Maruisz Duda has an excellent voice. Reality Dream I gives Michal Lapaj a chance to release his virtuoso keyboards on us and he does well. Loose Heart has those excellent Piotr Grudzinski guitars again and ends in screaming vocals. Reality Dream II just like part one is an instrumental track. In Two Minds has even more evidence of the good vocals and a well balanced sound. The Curtain Falls is a very good track, the bass guitar really stands out. OK is not my favourite track, too little happens, although it is a good track to listen to with headphones on in the dark.
Only recently I saw Riverside at ProgPower 2004 expecting them to be the odd one out, in between all the metal violence. Judging from the reaction I heard they were highly appreciated, their album being sold out with a quarter of an hour (none of the other bands managed that!) It shows quality will always be appreciated. The fact that their songs, played live, have a rougher edge will also have helped.
I think Riverside with little to no competition, will be the newcomer of the year in our poll of 2004. In the poll itself the album will also do very good because it appeals to large groups of progressive rock fans no matter which sub genre they are into. So do not miss out on a chance to witness the birth of a new prog icon. Buy this album !
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Wicked Minds - From The Purple Skies
Tracklist: From The Purple Skies (6:08), The Elephant Stone (6:33), Drifting (7:41), Across The Sunrise (8:53), Forever My Queen (2:57), Rising Above (7:02), Queen Of Violet (6:19), Space Child (9:09), Gypsy (5:22), Return To Uranus (18:14)
Excuse me while I slip into a time warp and travel back into the early Seventies when as a schoolboy I listened with intent to my elder brother's record collection. The music of that era sculptured my musical preferences and although I soon branched out in my own musical explorations, a love for the great heavy rock acts of the time has stayed with me. So, imagine my delight when inserting the debut release by Italian band Wicked Minds into my CD player and being confronted by the sound of a pulsating Hammond organ that is all too rarely heard these days.
Ok reminiscing over, time to lay down some observations that will shape this review. Yes the album is retrogressive in its sound and is firmly rooted in the early 1970s, it wouldn't pass muster as a progressive album as we know the genre today and image wise (not that image is, or should be, an issue) the group are several decades behind the times, but really none of that matters, not to me at least. Make no bones, I am a serious fan of early Seventies rock music, from the obscure to the whimsical, from bands that didn't break out of the pub circuit to acts that started the enormodome performances we know today, it was an exciting era when anything went and nobody worth their salt gave a fig about musical trends and genres. Wicked Minds bring all that back to life in the early 21st century.
Unfortunately I don't know much about the band other than they are from Piacenza in Northern Italy and comprise Lucio Calegari (guitars), Paolo Negri (keyboards), J.C. (vocals), Andrea Concarotti (drums) and Enrico Garilli (bass). Their website is not fully functional at present and only gives a brief rundown on the band members so it will have to be the music that does the talking. Even without hearing any of the CD, the keyboard list gives an indication of the sound - Hammond organ, mellotron, moog synthesisers, electric and grand piano. From the opening bars of From The Purple Skies the classic sound of the early days of Uriah Heep is predominant. By mid song we are deep into early Deep Purple territory with a stunning Hammond solo coming after a fine guitar solo. The Heep influences are also heard on The Elephant Stone, particularly in the ascending vocal harmonies, and on the faithful cover of Gypsy, the standout track from Heep's Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble debut.
But is it not all sturm und drang. Drifting and Across The Sunrise start off in a more laid back manner with prominent mellotron contributions, although both hot up with more great Hammond work and driving drumming yet maintaining strong melodic elements. Forever My Queen, a cover of the Pentagram song, relies on a heavy keyboard riff and effects from the Moog and Hammond, but is one of the less interesting pieces on the album. Rising Above, a more sedate bluesy number, and Queen Of Violet, the least conventional number of the album, have some good guitar work from Calegari and powerful vocals from J.C. that come very close to justifying the comparisons with David Byron.
However, it is the last two original compositions on the CD that take the plaudits. Space Child, perfectly blends flute (played by Patrizio Borlenghi) with the organ whereas the 18 minute Return To Uranus lulls the listener into a peaceful frame of mind with the acoustic guitar and more flute until the Hammond once again takes over, gradually building with the addition of first guitar, then bass and drums to become a tour de force that rivals that other epic space trip - Deep Purple's Space Trucking from their Made In Japan live album (yes, it is that good!).
Wicked Minds have come up with an album that is easily a contender for my album of the year. All the musicians are on top form and combine to produce one hell of a glorious racket. For fans of seventies rock, particularly fanatics of keyboard dominated music and Hammond organ aficionados, this album is a must.
Although in my books this album is a clear 10/10, I realise that a some of our readers are not as fond as I am of music that is so obviously rooted in a style from the past. Having said that I will still award this CD a DPRP recommended tag as it is so well written, played, performed and arranged but with the provision that if you don't like the early Seventies version of progressive rock than this might not be the album for you!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Simon Apple - River To The Sea
Tracklist: Leap Of Faith (3:46), Weight Of The World (8:03), The Colours In Between (4:41), Hold Me (Like A Lover) (4:40), A Way Outside (1:12), A Way Inside (3:49), Significance (3:34), Taken Root (6:33), The Weight Is On... (0:59), Take My Life (5:10), For Every Loss (5:46), Katherine (4:47), A Lot Of Hope (4:49), A Reason Why... (0:48), River To the Sea (4:47), Bonus Tracks: Wait.... (0:30), Weight Of The World (single edit) (4:10)
Before receiving this album, I must admit to having never heard of Simon Apple previously, and the thing that actually intrigued me to approach this album for reviewing purposes, was the great wealth of guest musicians present on this said album. Having said this, the presence of so many famous musicians also made me somewhat apprehensive as many times it is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth! However River To The Sea is absolutely no such case, is it is a wonderful experience through a variety of cleverly crafted pieces, ranging from quirky XTC-like pop rock numbers to Steely Dan funk to sublime jazz numbers.
First of all one should mention that Simon Apple have been around since late nineties with some degree of success stateside, mainly within the adult contemporary charts. The fulcrum of musical activities within Simon Apple revolves around a trio of musicians Buzz Saylor, Jeff Miller and Dan Merrill, who between them play most of the instruments as well as compose the music on the album. Along the way they have enlisted the help of a variety of musicians whom I will mention later on as I go into the details of the various tracks on the album. Suffice to say that the musicians themselves are a Who's Who of the classical rock scene, with most of them coming form the progressive rock sector.
The opening Leap of Faith has that great feel-good factor with a great chorus - well worthy of single status! Come the second track, Weight Of The World, the style and mood has changed considerably and one finds the inclusion of the first of the illustrious guest musicians, Tony Levin (no introduction needed here!). When I heard Leap of Faith I was worried that the progressive influences would be lacking, but this was immediately dispelled when Weight Of The World came on as it is a great piece of modern day prog with the occasional foray into funk territory. This track is one of the highlights of the album and a single edit version of it is also presented as a bonus track at the tail end of the album. However, the prog-rock lovers would want to hear the longer version which has some great instrumental sections.
The Colours In Between still retains that Steely Dan-like atmosphere while Hold Me (Like A Lover) (once again with Tony Levin on bass) is the album ballad featuring some great harmonies. Seemingly the album was starting to fall into a more commercial stride, at least so I thought, because the band suddenly move into jazz territory. A Way Outside is a short prelude to A Way Inside which once again has that lounge jazz feel. This time round bassist Steve Rodby (Pat Methney Group) and trumpeter Dave Stahl join in as guests and the effect is great creating a sound that is a cross between Steely Dan and Sting. By Significance, I was seriously wondering why this band have not yet managed to make more of a name for themselves. Their ability to create and combine melody with complex tunes is remarkable and possibly their main problem is the very fact that they are American! Somehow it always seems that the music that has a quirky edge to it seems to be more appreciated across the Atlantic from the States band probably if Simon Apple were British they would be feted by the press! Oh, and just for your information - Buck Dharma (Blue Oyster Cult) provides some killer guitar licks on this track!
Taken Root has the same line-up (inc. guests) as A Way Inside and the style is pretty much similar. Take my Life is a great progressive number with some lovely keyboard sections while For Every Loss and Katherine "betrays" the American nature of the band members as it has a distinctive singer-songwriter reminiscent of those classic 70's artists while A Lot Of Hope has an upbeat radio-friendly touch. The album comes to a close with the title track River To The Sea a delicate and dramatic number featuring the plaintive cello sound of Hugh McDowell (Electric Light Orchestra) and the saxophone of John Helliwell (Supertramp).
This release from Simon Apple is definitely one the "discoveries" of the year for me and will surely go down as one of my "Albums of the Year". With its blend of various styles, River To The Sea is one of those rare albums that I have managed to listen to from beginning to end without wondering why a particular track was included. The album is a definite winner and comes highly recommended. Furthermore, one should also mention that a portion of the album sales are being donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Abacab - Les 3 Couleurs
Tracklist: Métrocité (Concept) (0:17); Ne Me Dérangez Pas! (3:54); Zapping Infos (Concept) (0:28); Les 3 Couleurs ( 8:11); La Source (10:41)
I’m going to be blunt: whatever else I have to say for or against this CD, I just plain like it. It’s clever, fun, ambitious, well-performed progressive rock, and I hope this band will make many more albums.
That’s easy enough to say. More difficult will be trying to describe with any precision the sound of this French band’s “Maxi-CD” – a three-song EP with two ultra-brief transitional (“Concept”) instrumentals. According to the promotional materials, Abacab – the new name for a group formerly known as Contresens – is influenced by Pink Floyd, Genesis, Mike Oldfield, and Dream Theater. I find it difficult to hear any of those groups save Genesis in their sound, and even anything like Genesis’s sound crops up in only a few places on the disc – most notably in the middle and last parts of the final track, La Source. In fact, one difficulty in describing this band points to one of their great virtues: they have that unusual thing in any genre, a unique sound. It’s possible to say as a rough guide that this or that bit of a song sounds like this or that other band, but, except in that one song and in the case of Genesis, it’s not really influence we’re talking about, only a vague similarity. As the promotional materials also say, “The music is original and combines diversified melodies with a strongly emphasized rhythm section and a search for a new sound.” I think they’ve found that “new sound,” although maybe the plural “sounds” would be more to the point.
The main obstacle the listener needs to overcome (and I’m assuming that the French lyrics don’t constitute a significant obstacle, even if, like me, you can’t understand them very well) is the singer’s delivery, which can only be described as theatrical. If you think of the singing of Fish around the time of Marillion’s early albums Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws, you’ll have a very rough idea of what to expect here. There isn’t a lot of traditional singing on this CD – what there is is kind of half-shouting, in fact, as are many of the background vocals – and, if the band truly wants to expand their appeal, they’ll probably want to moderate the acting and increase the singing. However, after a few playings, I found the vocals quite entertaining (rather than a bit annoying, as I found them at first), and in fact the lyrics seem largely meant to be acted. I mean, the first song begins with the claim “J’ai un tête comme un pot de fleurs qu’on aurait oublié d’arroser” (“I have a head like a flowerpot that you keep forgetting to water”) – you try to sing those lyrics straight! And the final song, whose chorus, roughly translated, asserts “She has the size of ten elephants, her trunk dipped in the water, / She groans while blowing smoke from her back,” is clearly intended as a mini-drama set to music. So perhaps we can accept the vocal style, at least for now, as part of the band’s whole concept of its sound.
Now on to the music. I’d describe it as excellent if very weird. Again, with the exception of Genesis, none of the four bands that Abacab explicitly claims as influential is even in their league when it comes to experimentation with the bizarre. Their six-man line-up is equipped more or less traditionally, with the exception of the one musician, Cédric Kuznicki, who is credited with “noises and sound effects” (“Bruitages, effets sonoires”), but the other five members of the band are not shy of prying noises and sound effects out of guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards, either. All three main songs alternate between heavy, sometimes almost heavy-metal-ish, passages and quiet keyboard or “soundscape” breaks; between sections in which the instruments, predominantly guitar, almost seem to be “acting” parts themselves alongside the vocals, so expressive are they, and instrumental segments that carry on the songs’ narratives without words. If you want rough analogues, I’ll be darned if several passages in the title song, Les 3 Couleurs, didn’t remind me vaguely of the quarter-century-old Gentle Giant album Civilian – I’m thinking especially of propulsive songs like the wonderful Convenience (Clean and Easy); and, as I said earlier, from about the halfway point of the climactic La Source, we’re put in mind of Genesis, for sure, the Hackett-like guitar and the stop-and-start dynamics backing the dramatic vocals remotely but delightfully echoing that great band’s work from about the time of Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot.
But this band has their own sound, their own ideas, and I really hope they can find the audience that will allow them to develop it and them further. Apparently, they’re working on an album to be released in 2005, and I look forward to it. And despite this EP’s oddities, I can confidently recommend it to all fans of truly adventurous progressive rock: it will surprise, it might even occasionally annoy, but I can’t imagine it will disappoint such fans.
(NB: Special thanks to my daughter, Celia, for the translations.)
Conclusion: 8 out of 10