Reviews in this issue:
- Ray Wilson - Live
- Snowy White & The White Flames - The Way It Is ...
- Index - Identidade
- Redd Land (Esteban Cerioni Band) - De Tiempos Pasados
- Agarta – Under The Same Sky
Ray Wilson - Live
The Last Horizon (0:13), These are the Changes (3:35), Goodbye Baby Blue (4:25), In the Air Tonight (5:30), Carpet Crawlers (6:14), Ever the Reason (3:38), Story (3:46), Follow You Follow Me (4:01), Sarah (3:31), Change (4:16), Another Day (4:39), Magic Train (3:56), Sunshine and Butterflies (5:26), Inside (4:57), Footsteps (4:31), I Can't Dance (4:44), Gypsy (4:29)
Tracklist CD2: The Actor (4:41), Alone (4:35), Ripples (7:27), Along the Way (3:43), Biko (5:47), Lovers Leap (2:29), No Son of Mine (5:19), Shipwrecked (3:22), Not About Us (4:04), Sometimes (3:39), The Lamb Lies Down (5:31), Swing Your Bag (3:25), Knockin' on Heaven's Door (6:02), The Airport Song (3:54), Rest in Peace (2:58)
I've always liked Ray Wilson's material and seeing him play live during the Change Tour was a real delight. Although others might think differently I think Ray has one of the best voices in current day rock music and might well be one of the most underrated singer-songwriters of the moment. At least, he is here in Holland. Seemingly Ray is quite popular in Germany, but Holland was skipped during the Next Best Thing Tour since there was not enough interest. Bummer ! Fortunately Ray had decided to release another live album and this time it's a full show recorded in Germany in November 2004.
And what a show ! No less than 30 songs (not counting the short intro music and the funny story about Ray's first show rehearsal with Genesis while the press was present) and a total running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes ! But not only the quantity is impressive, the quality is top notch as well. As those of you who have seen Ray before or have heard his live recordings will know, Ray's set list consists of a nice balanced mixture of his solo material, his previous work with bands like Genesis, Stiltskin, Guaranteed Pure and Cut, as well as some more covers. As such we are treated to fine renditions of 9 Genesis songs: Carpet Crawlers, Follow You Follow Me, a kick-ass version of I Can't Dance, Ripples (Ray's personal favourite Genesis tune, played with an impressive second half with Irvin Duguid excelling on keys), Lover's Leap (the first part of Supper's Ready), No Son of Mine, Shipwrecked, Not About Us and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Some of these tunes are played in an acoustic arrangement in the middle part of the set.
Ray's Stiltskin period, the heavier part of the set, is represented by Sunshine and Butterflies, Footsteps, Rest in Peace and the jeans commercial hit single Inside, which was rerecorded in a rather inferior version on Ray's last album. For some people this part of the set might take a while to get used to since it's quite different in style from the other material.
Guaranteed Pure's songs Swing Your Bag and The Airport Song make for some good light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek encores, while Cut is represented by the fine tunes Sarah, Another Day and Gypsy. Finally there's cover versions of songs by Phil Collins (In The Air Tonight), Peter Gabriel (Biko) and Bob Dylan (Knockin' on Heaven's Door).
Now, these cover versions and material from Ray's own band career are already more than worth the price of this double CD. Still, the nine remaining songs from Ray's two solo albums (Change and The Next Big Thing) are high quality stuff as well. As a matter of fact I wouldn't have minded if there was less cover material and a bit more solo material on the album. I would for instance have loved to have tracks like Beach, She Fades Away or Pumpkinhead on this album (I would even change it for one or two Stiltskin songs or Magic Train). But hey, you can't win 'em all and this album is excellent as it is.
The performances are great throughout the album, although Ray does have a bit of a problem reaching the high note in The Lamb. So is there really nothing to complain ? Well maybe just a few minor things. One is the audience. When Ray tries to get the audience to sing along they can hardly be heard (or were just badly recorded) and during the quiet pieces they sometimes cannot shut up. For instance the acoustic Lover's Leap is spoiled by somebody shouting and Ray reacting with 'quiet!'. Another minor complaint is the lack of female backing vocals which were present on some of Ray's previous live recordings. I really miss them on some tracks, especially Ever The Reason, which is one of my favourite Wilson tunes. The male backing vocals just don't live up to the original. Finally, there's some tracks were I would have liked the mix to be slightly different, with some of the instruments being more prominent or the drums a bit less 'dry'. But all of these remarks are just minor complaints and hardly take away any of the enjoyment of this album.
If you like Ray Wilson's stuff this is a must-have, if you like the well-known material mentioned above go out and get this album as well. It will give you a good representation of the world of Wilson.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Snowy White & The White Flames - The Way It Is ...
Tracklist: No Stranger To The Blues (3:23), Bird Of Paradise (3:44), Black Magic Woman (3:17), What I'm Searching For (5:17), Angel Inside You (part 1) (4:08), Angel Inside You [part 2] (5:18), Falling 4:24), The Way It Is (3:47), A Piece Of Your Love (3:51), This Time Of My Life (4:39), Easy (3:26), Sweet Bluesmaker (5:27)
February 2005 saw the release of a new album by Snowy White, blues guitarist extraordinary and (former) session musician for names like Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, Thin Lizzy, Peter Green and Al Stewart. And it's about time ! Although it's been 'only' three years since the release of his previous album, Restless I noticed that the first three tracks on the album were recorded no less than 4 years ago, while the rest of the tracks date from 2003. As a matter of fact, some of the songs on this album have already been played live for a while.
On this album, Snowy once again teams up with his Dutch rhythm section, drummer Juan van Emmerloot (Valencia) and bass player Walter Latupeirissa (Ambeon, Alquin), who've been working with him for more than 10 years now. A fine collaboration as anybody who has seen the boys play live will confirm. On some tracks though, the bass parts are played by Snowy's old mate Kuma Harada, who also used to play in Snowy White's Blues Agency, while drums on some tracks were played by Richard Bailey, who played on Snowy's early solo albums in the eighties.
Fortunately though, it's not just Snowy plus a rhythm section on this record. A whole range of keyboard players join them on various tracks. Among them John 'Rabbit' Bundrick (The Who) and Max Middleton (Jeff Beck band), who should be no stranger to people initiated in all things bluesy. But there's more. The album even features saxophone, percussion and female backing vocals. All of this combined makes for a very full and warm sound, which is much better than just the three piece band on some of Snowy's albums from the late nineties, e.g. Little Wing and Keep Out - We Are Toxic.
Another big advantage of this album is it's diversity and wide range in styles, all of which of course incorporate Snowy's fine guitar work. The album contains some great blues ballads, up-tempo rockers, some funky material, some accessible poppy tunes and some tasteful Latin influences. All of which will show in the short track-by-track below.
The opening track No Stranger To The Blues is a fine bluesy tune, which goes from acoustic guitar and vocals in the first half to a powerful full-band arrangement in the second half. It also features some fine Clapton-ish steel guitar.
Bird of Paradise is probably Snowy's most well-known song, at least it is in Holland. It was also used for one of the KLM commercials. This CD contains the re-recorded version which was also featured on Bird of Paradise - An Anthology. The lyrics have been altered and the song is more compressed since the pauses between the lines of the verses are missing. It takes a while to get used to, but in the end you've got a fine alternative version to the original 1983 version.
Next up is a cover version of Peter Green's Black Magic Woman, which most of you will know from Fleetwood Mac or Santana. Snowy's version was a very pleasant surprise. Very up-tempo and with a great 'Tower of Power'-like brass section, which strangely enough is not mentioned in the credits.
What I'm Searching for is a track that has Santana written all over it, especially the opening solo and Latin influenced rhythms. Very tasteful.
One of the highlights of the album is Angel Inside You. The first part builds up slowly from the Isla Bonita-like percussion to a kick-ass riff, great greasy bass-line and even a sax solo. The second, instrumental part features a great Spanish & electric guitar duet plus more atmospheric sax before the track suddenly changes into an up-tempo Latin piece with great piano and guitar. Together these two tracks offer almost 10 minutes of absolute bliss.
Falling is a beautiful peaceful ballad which comes as a very welcome resting point after the energy of Angel Inside. It could easily be compared to similar Snowy White tracks like The Time Has Come.
The Way It Is is easily the most commercial track on the album. When I first played the CD I didn't really like it all that much but it has grown on me. Still, the female vocals, which are just a bit too prominent for my taste, and the straightforward composition doesn't make this a very inspired piece and as such it is a shame that the album was named after it. It should have been called Angel Inside You instead. ;-)
Fortunately the next two tracks are more inspiring. A Piece of Your Love is a fine bluesy toe-tapper in the vein of Loving Man with great Hammond organ. It's almost impossible to sit still to this one.
This Time of My Life (not to be confused with Snowy's The Rest of My Life) is another highlight on the album. A great rocking tune with splendid breaks where the full band stops for a second or two and pick up again. Splendid tension building. It's a shame the song fades out at the end.
Easy is an instrumental that Snowy wrote together with Walter and features prominent bass and piano. Not bad at all, but since it leans more towards the fusion style of Snowy's early solo albums it certainly isn't one of my favourites.
The album ends with Sweet Bluesmaker. As you've probably guessed this is one of those smoky bar type of blues songs with more great Hammond and sax. A worthy album closer, although not the biggest surprise to be found on the album.
There's only one complaint I have about the CD and that's the packaging. Although it's quite tastefully done in a retrospective sixties style, the CD comes in one of those carton digipacks. Now, I've never been a big fan of digipacks, but this is one is the worst kind .... one with a transparent tray which doesn't hold the CD tight enough so it keeps falling out. Quite annoying.
Sure, this is not prog rock as most of us know it. Still, for those of you who like great guitar work, diversity and blues-based prog like Pink Floyd's early seventies work, or some of Snowy's major influences (Santana, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, BB King) this album comes highly recommended. The fine production, warm arrangements and variety certainly make this CD Snowy's best efforts of the last ten years.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Index - Identidade
Tracklist: Vulcano (7:26), Maximus (3:50), Suite Angelus: Opus 1 Marina (6:23); Opus 2 Eduardo (4:56), Corações Do Mundo: Intro (1:02), Fogos De Santelmo (6:35), Corações Do Mundo [1. Pulse!, 2. Azaléias 144, 3. Miles From Ana Rech] (8:22), Index II [1. Intro, 2. Gailileu E O Dilema, 3. Identidade, 4. Gran Finale] (13:06)
After introducing vocals to their second album Liber Secundus, Brazilian band Index have returned to their instrumental roots for their latest album Identidade. Based around guitarist and flautist Jones Júnior and keyboard player Otaviano Kury, the quartet is completed by bassist Ronaldo Schenato and drummer Leonardo Reis.
Opening track Vulcano is an interesting piece that is vaguely reminiscent of IQ precursor The Lens, although in a rather more disjointed and less fluid manner. Maximus starts with a flute intro that is right out of the Camel school of writing but sadly doesn't live up to the opening potential. The arrangement is subtly askew, with acoustic guitar solo sounding distinctly out of tune! Suite Angelus has a more European feel to it, the mixture of Hammond organ and electric guitar bringing Focus to mind, particularly towards the end of Opus 1: Marina. On the whole a reasonable track with some nice playing throughout. Corações Do Mundo: Intro has a slightly medieval feel to it, although the start of the track proper has a lovely reprise of the main theme played on the piano which is then repeated by the guitar. The melodious start to the piece is transformed into a rather more free exposition of keyboard and guitar soloing although there are repetitions of the central theme throughout, played in a variety of styles. The prominent bass playing is impressive throughout but the drumming is sometimes too cluttered, seemingly playing a different rhythm than would ordinarily be suggested by the main tune.
Index II, the major composition on the album, explores a variety of different styles throughout its 13 minutes. The flute and Hammond work very well together, although, again, the drums are slightly too busy during the more gentle sections. The mixture of synth and organ is not so successful to my ears, the acidity of the synth contrasting awkwardly with the warmer sound of the Hammond. Schenato keeps up a steady and inventive bass line throughout the track at times managing to almost achieve that classic sound that Chris Squire has with Yes. Whatever the faults, the track doesn't lag as some extended compositions can and the changes are enough and sufficient to keep the listeners interest.
Having not heard any of the band's previous albums it is impossible for me to say if Identidade is a step forward for the group or not. They are all competent musicians and have some good ideas even if the arrangements are sometimes not as smooth as one would like. Fans of Focus and their ilk may find a lot in this album (albeit without the yodelling!), but I think that Index will have problems attracting the attention of the masses.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Redd Land (Esteban Cerioni Band) -
De Tiempos Pasados
Tracklist: Parto [No Permitas] (3:23), El Loco (4:52), Serpentario (3:53), Tan Lejos, Esta Verde (4:41), Meddley/Consuelo (3:39), 6. Meddley/Cuerpo (2:03), Grito [Las Golondrinas] (4:05), Sin Pena Ni Gloria (5:40), Pobre Lago (2:54), Proa Al Infinito (4:48)
I can’t tell you a whole hell of a lot about Redd Land, which apparently is also sometimes called the Esteban Cerioni Band. I didn’t receive a press release with the review copy of the band’s CD, De Tiempos Pasados (which I’m guessing, with gringo ignorance, might mean “Passing Time” or “Time Passes”) and the majority of the information on the CD jacket is given in Spanish, which I don’t read. But here’s what I can report.
Esteban Cerioni is an Argentinian bassist who, in 1981, was playing the final gigs with his band Redd. He realized that the music he had enjoyed composing and performing would be lost to posterity with the band’s demise, and so he conceived a recording project to preserve some of his musical ideas and creations. He assembled a significant cast of musicians (De Tiempos Pasados features more than a dozen musicians, interspersed among the ten tracks) and set down the batch of songs that make up this 2004 offering from Viajero Inmovil Records. I have the impression that Redd Land/the Esteban Cerioni Band no longer exists although I could be mistaken. And that, my friends, is the extent of my knowledge about Redd Land. Therefore, on to the music.
The first thing I’ll mention is that the lyrics are all in Spanish. This is a song-oriented CD and it’s filled with verse-chorus-verse, which is fine by me, but if you either a) prefer instrumental music; or b) prefer English lyrics, then you might want to skip to the next review. Personally, even when I don’t understand the lyrics, if the singing is passionate and well phrased, I’m good-to-go, and that is pretty much true for the vocal delivery on De Tiempos Pasados, which often passes for that of a Latin Jon Anderson.
To be honest, we’re not really within the confines of ‘pure prog’ with Redd Land; instead, De Tiempos Pasados is a pomp prog/arena rock offering with some obvious tips of the hat to British progressive rock and second-wave North American prog-lite. But within the confines of pomp prog, Redd Land does certainly exhibit skill and the ability to handle a plethora of styles.
At times the guitar riffs echo the straight-ahead North American and European rock of the mid- to late 70s, à la UFO, The Michael Schenker Group, Ted Nugent, April Wine, The Scorpions, Aldo Nova, Triumph, etc. For example, on Parto (No Permitas), the guitarist offers a scorching, repeating salvo that reeks of arena rock. The guitar sound is thin and tinny and the whole track is too processed and brassy, but the guitar work is clean and cutting, if fairly standard. The song’s arrangement is simple and, combined with the smooth runs by the guitarist, I was reminded of the early gun-slinging ways of, say, REO Speedwagon or pre-Steve Perry Journey.
Redd Land changes tempo a bit on El Loco, which is a ballad. The band still lingers in the realm of pomp prog but in this case the tune echoes the synth-laden rock of Yes, Styx, and Boston. The vocals are ethereal and the flanged guitar gives the entire song a dreamy quality. And on Meddley/Consuelo/Meddley/Cuerpo, the band even recalls the proggier elements of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, with its slow, sombre organ trills and dynamic variation between dirge and bombast. Overall, Redd Land handles the 70s arena motifs very well and if the music is some times derivative, it’s still well done and never so imitative as to offend.
At other times on De Tiempos Pasados, there is a more express effort to mirror the prog rock of, say, Yes or even early Tull. Grito (Las Golondrinas) is perhaps the best track of the recording, utilizing flute and vibraphone to set a catchy 6/8 exotic jazz swing. It’s a great moment and the band shows excellent taste, finesse, and musical control on this song. It’s very reminiscent of tracks on either Stand Up or Benefit. Then Redd Land even has its more severe jazz moments, whether it’s be-bop? influenced (as on Serpenterio, which showcases a nice Latin funk in tandem with a vigorous piano workout) or the hints of fusion that flavour the entire recording. Occasionally I heard a nod to Steely Dan in the combined piano and synth, and in general, the jazzier sections revealed the dexterity of the band’s playing and its compositional integrity. There are spots of Latin bliss on De Tiempos Pasados, such as Pobre Lago, which opens with a very Caribbean atmosphere. It’s laid back and slightly plaintive but it contains a brilliant staccato break that commands attention. I like to call it indigenous prog and it was refreshing to hear the blend of hand percussion and Latin timbres with more traditional prog synths and a heated guitar rave up.
Redd Land even adventures into New Wave pop. Proa Al Infinito, with an absolutely classic bass line, starts with a guitar lick straight out of the Andy Summers seminar. This is a nice departure for the band; the track is fresh and energized. Again, Redd Land does prove its mastery of numerous musical genres. In the end, De Tiempos Pasados is a bit disappointing for the sound quality. The mix is too bright and the entire effort sounds canned. I’m sure that recording funds were limited and probably the majority (if not entirety) of this album was recorded in the 80s, when cheesy processed vocals and guitars dominated. A nice remastering of this disk might really bolster a reviewer’s opinion. As it stands, I’m convinced that the band was probably tremendous live, the performances and the arrangements are professional and full of flair, and the disk is thoroughly impressive and pleasing if you can tolerate the tinny sound quality.
De Tiempos Pasados is pomp prog, no question, and very much arena rock, to be honest. But the music is smart and the playing is far more than proficient. (Esteban Cerioni himself shines on bass.) The album perhaps lacks the very strong commercial hooks with which the arena rock gods conquered the airwaves and concert venues, but it’s still damn good. The small tinges of world music only help the songs and the fact that it clocks in at just under 40 minutes is a saving grace: you never have an opportunity to be overburdened by the music.
I’d recommend this disc to three musical camps. First, to anyone who enjoys Latin-based rock music. Second, to anyone who did (or still does) enjoy the guitar pyrotechnics of the mid- to late 70s. Third, to fans of progressive rock who also care for more straightforward music utilizing the occasional prog trappings. De Tiempos Pasados is no masterpiece, but it’s solid, mature, and definitely worth a listen or two. Or three.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Agarta – Under The Same Sky
Tracklist: Under The Same Sky (9:04), Seven Yards! (5:14), Play On Words (6:41), State Of Weightlessness (5:42), The Autumn Garden (4:57), Rain Architecture (5:48), Detonator Of The Genius (2:04), Loneliness (1:24)
Agarta is another indigenous band released by the Russian Starless Label, but it’s very different in style to the Alexander Kostarev Group. Whilst Kostarev specialises in a fiery blend of neo-classicism and Jazz-Fusion, Agarta choose a much more restrained, ethereal approach, taking a little inspiration from eighties King Crimson and operating in that murky region where the borders of the New-Age, Ambient, Prog and Jazz-Fusion genres meet and blur into each other.
Agarta seems to be a side project from the band Stihiya (though the parent band appears to be at least as obscure as the spin-off) with Denis Popov (drums), Max Popov (bass) and Valery Shukevuch (guitar) being joined for this recording by Miff Opritov (guitar, guitar synth, flute and vocals).
Aside from a nice scat vocal on the relaxed and playful Jazz-Lite The Autumn Garden, the music is entirely instrumental. The focus is on guitar/guitar synth throughout, but Agarta are more interested in building moods and atmospheres than in GuitarGod histrionics. The rhythm section adds plenty to the overall sound; Max Popov is a nimble, active bass player; Denis Popov (no relation) knows his way around the kit and has a deft touch, easily equal to the subtlety this music demands.
Under The Same Sky makes a great late night listen; with subdued lighting and a reflective frame of mind, the effect can be quite intoxicating. This is not to say that the music lacks bite or tension – from the title track onwards there is an ever-present undercurrent of menace and harder-edged elements are never far away. The opening cut is the longest on the disc and, after a couple of minutes of shimmering soundscaping, the track morphs into a pleasing section consisting of a repetitive percussive melody, counterpointed by gentle guitar. At around four minutes, the tune becomes darker – this is where the band sounds most like King Crimson – but the guitar solo that emerges sounds more like Steve Hackett then Mr Fripp. This is followed by a rocky section before the tune mellows out again towards the end. This is a nicely developed instrumental, which takes the listener on a sonic adventure with plenty of mood changes and interesting textures.
I particularly like the throbbing pulse of Rain Architecture, the otherworldly ambience of State Of Weightlessness (with its sustain-heavy guitar solo) and, perhaps best of all, Seven Yards! This marries a jangling intro to an Eastern sounding motif before heading for Dreamland with heavenly guitar licks. There’s even a touch of funk, nestling behind a terrific jazzy guitar solo. The invention doesn’t stop there- there’s room for a hint of Metal riffery before the track returns to the opening theme.
The quality of the music is pretty consistent throughout, but Agarta surprise a little by veering off into more experimental territory on the two short closing numbers – Detonator Of The Genius being a distinctly edgy number, threatening to dissolve into chaos at any moment, and Loneliness being an evocative flute solo. Oddly, this is the only track to feature flute at all, so its inclusion seems a trifle strange. It might have been nice to have added some flute to one or two of the longer pieces.
Overall, this is an intriguing little disc, with plenty to offer to those fancying a mellowish amble on the Ambient/Jazz frontier of Prog. Aside from touches of King Crimson, and brief hints at guitar stylists like Steve Hackett or Bill Nelson, Agarta mainly achieves and sustains their own individual sound, which is well worth a try for discerning listeners.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10