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Reviews in this issue:
- Fish - Bouillabaisse
- Charlie Beresford - The Room Is Empty
- Flagship - Maiden Voyage
- Land Of Chocolate – Regaining The Feel
- Pablo Sangineto - Constelaciones
- Joost - Voluntary
- Pablo - El Enterrador
Fish - Bouillabaisse
Disc 1 'Balladeer' [70.55]: Just Good Friends (4:01), Shot The Craw (4:00), A Gentleman's Excuse Me (4:17), Kayleigh (3:38), Solo (4:08), Incomplete (3:43), The Company (4:05), Fortunes Of War (5:05), Our Smile (4:17), Lavender (3:42), Lady Let It Lie (4:08), Cliche (7:05), Scattering Crows (5:08), Tara (4:06), Caledonia (4:19), Raw Meat (5:13)
Disc 2 'Rocketeer' [72.43]: Big Wedge (4:36), Credo (4:03), Incommunicado (3:56), Goldfish and Clowns (4:11), Long Cold Day (5:35), Brother 52 (3:58), Clock Moves Sideways (7:02), The Perception Of Johnny Punter (8:37), Moving Targets (5:46), Plague Of Ghosts (24:50) [i. Old Haunts (3.12), ii. Digging Deep (6.48), iii. Chocolate Frogs (4.04), iv. Waving At Stars (3.12), v. Raingods Dancing (4.16), vi. Wake Up Call (Make It Happen) (3.18)]
Another Fish compilation? That is probably the first reaction this album provokes. However, as Fish justly explains on his website, there have been three albums released since the last compilation Kettle Of Fish, which is more than Peter Gabriel released in between his latest two compilations. Furthermore, Fish' stint with Roadrunner was a rather short-lived one, and the world-wide distribution of Kettle Of Fish certainly wasn't as it should have been.
Fish recently signed a new deal with Snapper Records, and with a new record deal often comes a new compilation album. This time giving Fish his first proper world-wide distribution since leaving Polydor in 1993.
Understandably a slight emphasis lies on the three albums released since Kettle of Fish, yet songs from Fish' entire career (including Marillion) are included.
In terms of offering new material to existing Fish fans, there is exactly none. The only remotely exclusive track that can be found on this compilation is the Frankie Miller cover Caledonia, which Fish did with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band for a tribute album in 2002.
For the rest the compilation is mainly made up of the usual suspects and a couple of small surprises, grouped per disc to reflect Fish' mellower side (Balladeer) and his rocky side (Rocketeer). The usual suspects being pretty much all Fish singles (with the exception of State of Mind, Internal Exile, Something In The Air, Hold Your Head Up and Change of Heart) and the surprises turn up in the form of three Marillion singles which appear in its original form (and not the re-recordings Fish did for the Yin and Yang albums in 1995) and a handful of studio and live-favourites are included.
To justify the tag "best of" some singles were passed over in favour of better album tracks. Instead of Hold Your Head Up the covers album Songs From The Mirror is represented with the beautiful (and apt) Sandy Denny cover Solo. Change Of Heart was released as a single, but this compilation includes the far superior B-side Goldfish and Clowns. Furthermore tracks like Cliche, Clock Moves Sideways and The Perception Of Johnny Punter are not single material, but these are definitely some of the better Fish songs.
And finally the inclusion of the 25-minute epic Plague Of Ghosts is a bold, yet very wise decision, as this is probably the best song he has released in his entire solo career.
As is often the case with compilations, many tracks appear in an edited form. Some were already shortened for their single release, yet others have been chopped up for this compilation. Unfortunately, these edits don't always work. And with at least five more minutes worth of space left on both discs, some of the edits could have been a bit less rigorous. Especially Big Wedge and Credo suffer from the choppy editing, and also a track like Fortunes of War benefits from its long studio version.
Fortunately most of the album tracks like Cliche, The Perception Of Johnny Punter and the epic Plague Of Ghosts are left intact.
On the other hand, if edits are the way to go, then it puzzles me as to why not one or two more songs were included. The album Internal Exile is almost completely ignored, with only the four-minute single edit of Credo present and the album's title track would not have been out of place on this album. The Balladeer disc could have been complemented with a track like Marillion's Sugar Mice or Tilted Cross from Raingods With Zippos.
The album comes as a limited edition digipack, with a great Mark Wilkinson cover which has many references to the various Fish albums, songs and icons. In terms of liner notes and other information, the compilation is a big disappointment. A poster of the cover, with a tiny bit of info on the albums from which songs are presented printed on the back is all there is. It strikes me as odd that a compilation which is supposed to raise Fish' profile does not contain a biography on the big man.
This compilation has little next to nothing to offer for existing Fish fans, but to those who lost sight of the tall Scotsman after his departure from Marillion, or later on during his solo career, this double album can serve as a great (re)introduction to his works.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Charlie Beresford - The Room Is Empty
Tracklist: If Only (3:17), Nosfer (0:21), I Let You Walk With me (4:46), The Room Is Empty (4:08), Nosfer ii (1:21), The Tide That Pushed Away (4:01), Jesun (0:51), Hillside Lights (4:22), Hard-surface (5:04), Accorbass (2:48), To Smile (4:25), This Point Here (3:45), Not The Man (5:16), Shards (2:33)
Be warned: this album is not for the faint-hearted. Casual listeners looking for glossy ballads, deep acoustic soundscapes, or lush melodies over soaring backdrops can stop reading now. Musicians looking for something truly original to listen to and contemplate, or anyone who enjoys the kind of album you can play while sipping a glass of wine and sitting by a fire of a winter’s evening, keep reading: you just might find this interesting.
While The Room Is Empty is interesting, and certainly unique, it would be a far cry to call it progressive in any traditional sense. Indeed, former painter Charlie Beresford harkens back to school of Art Rock (although “rock” is a bit misleading, in this case), blending elements of folk and classical music together into a captivating (if not exactly energetic) picture that often seems more visual than aural. With The Room Is Empty Mr. Beresford (vocals, acoustic guitar), with the aid of Mark Emerson (violin, viola, accordion) and Tim Harries (double bass), paints a slow, bleak, yet somehow beautiful sonic picture, using coarse brushes and organic, earthy tones. Very well recorded, even pristine, but organic and earthy all the same.
As much of this album seems to be improvised, or based on improvisations which were later developed, consistent melodies are interspersed throughout but certainly not a solid item. This allows Charlie’s songs to move about freely, unencumbered by the limitations of traditional musical structures, which adds to his style of playing quite nicely. The Room Is Empty showcases a variety of moods, from acoustic minimalism to almost bard-like songs to a couple reminiscent of early Kansas, and the lyrics are deep, dark, at times accusing, adding an element of shadow to the painting.
Doing a by-track analysis of this album would be pointless, as it is a work of art more than a collection of three-minute soundbytes...it must be admired as a whole to be understood and appreciated. Special mention, however, must go to Hillside Lights for being a wake-up call halfway through the disc, Hard-surface for being generally listener-friendly (and man, Tim Harries' bass makes this song flow), and Not The Man for being strangely powerful. I’ll be honest and say that it took me a few listens to find much noteworthy about this album, and it took a while for exactly what was going on artistically to sink in, but the time it took to get inside the music was well worth it in the end. The Room Is Empty isn’t a singalong, it isn’t a rocker, it most likely isn’t the kind of album you’d share with casual music fans. It isn’t uplifting, it isn’t earth-shattering, and it isn’t terribly energetic. (It could, perhaps, stand a bit more consistent melody and structure, to appeal to those less fond of meandering.) It IS, however, a beautiful (in that odd way only a stark, bare thing can be) and, given time, enchanting one-of-a-kind work of art.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Flagship - Maiden Voyage
Tracklist: Heart Is The Center (7:41), You Are (6:53), The Throne (8:43), Hold On To Your Dream (6:38), Windy City (7:33), Ground Zero (9:39)
Musicians Christian Rivel and Kinus Kase founded the Swedish band Flagship in 2002. Both are known from Narnia, a guitar based rock band, that made a couple of great albums, but they were never really appreciated by the great audience. These two guys both like symphonic rock music as played by notorious bands like Kansas, Styx and Queen. They wanted to make a progressive, melodic album inspired by those bands and they soon started to record a few demos. Their goal was and is, to bring attention to this kind of music again. They wanted to create a fresh sound with the roots from the late seventies, but also with a touch of the new millennium.
They also wanted to have the best possible musicians to complete the line-up of Flagship. So they chose guys like Carljohan Grimmark, the amazing talented guitar player of Narnia, Kristofer Eng, the bass player of Brighteye Brison and Mick Nordstrom on drums. Very special guest on this album is Kansas guitar player Kerry Livgren, who plays the solo on his own composition Ground Zero, a song taken from Livgren's first solo album Seeds Of Change, released in 1980.
Heart Is The Center features a Kansas-like intro, before Rivel's rather sweet vocals set in. The guitar work by Grimmark is superb and sounds like mister Malmsteen, just like on the Narnia records. It is a very melodic track and a great opener for this album, although the second song You Are is a rather mainstream song with a catchy chorus and some weird high vocals by Rivel. The Throne is again a song that reminds me of Kansas (the violin solo) and even of Proto-Kaw. It is very melodic and features a lot of community singing, a splendid guitar piece, a keys solo and a typical Queen ending.
Hold On To Your Dream and Windy City are mediocre rock songs with no real musical surprises whatsoever. The highlight of this album is the already mentioned Livgren composition Ground Zero, a great power ballad with lots of twists and turns. A real symphonic rock track from the eighties, however written in a new arrangement by Linus Kase.
All in all not a bad album, but I think that it will not be really noticed as too many albums, that are actually better, hit the stores everyday.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Land Of Chocolate – Regaining The Feel
Tracklist: Film at 11 (3:23), The Pursuit Of Happiness (5:02), Killing With Kindness (5:15), Misanthropic Cattle (4:35), Regaining The Feel (5:40), Counting Sand (5:18), Red Pill (6:29), Military Mindset (4:51), Mechanical Pencil (5:23), Ungrateful (6:40)
Land Of Chocolate were formed around the start of the new millennium by keyboard player Jonn Buzby. Buzby had previously recorded a couple of albums with the female-fronted prog-fusion outfit Finneus Gauge, a band which also contained his better-known brother, Echolyn’s Chris. Land Of Chocolate released a debut, Unikorn On The Cob, back in 2001; since then Buzby has completely changed the line-up for this sophomore effort.
As stated in the DPRP review of their previous album, there really are no better reference points for the Land Of Chocolate sound than the two aforementioned outfits, Finneus Gauge and Echolyn, leaning more towards the former. Obviously this makes things difficult if you haven’t heard either of those bands – but, in a nutshell, we’re in prog fusion territory, where often complex, bustling rhythms are overlaid with quirky melodies, and the tempo and mood are liable to change at any moment. Buzby’s keyboards tend to be the lead instrument, with guitarist John Covach (whose playing, in common with many musicians within this genre, is somewhat reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth) tending to take on more of a supporting role. Buzby tends to employ keyboard sounds that wouldn’t be out of place at an old-fashioned fairground or carnival, with the Wurlitzer being a particular favourite, and this adds to the quirkiness, as well as lending the material some warmth.
In contrast to many of their contemporaries, such as the UK’s Sphere3 and Canada’s Spaced Out, Land Of Chocolate use vocals, and this is in fact one of the problems I have with the album. Buzby himself is the main vocalist, and whilst his voice is OK, its no more than that, and does tend to grate after a while. This would be fine if it was used sparingly, but it isn’t – virtually from the off there is a barrage of vocals, often over complex sections for which they aren’t particularly suited, and after a while it becomes rather claustrophobic, with the music lacking the space to properly breathe. It got to the stage where I was relieved to hear the track Mechanical Pencil due to the fact that, regardless of its quality, it was an instrumental! The phrase ‘less is more’ would definitely apply here.
Another issue, tying in with the over-use of the human voice, is the fact that, particularly during the first half of the album, the songs, whilst fairly pleasant, don’t really leap out and grab you. Having a fairly unique style (which Land Of Chocolate do have) is one thing, but if you constantly repeat this style throughout the album, the law of diminishing returns soon kicks in. The latter half of the album at least goes part of the way to bucking the trend by adding some much needed variety – Red Pill is a slower, more melancholy piece; Military Mindset employs some heavy guitar riffs (albeit well back in the mix) and is played at a higher tempo, whilst final track Ungrateful is probably the highlight of the album, building well to a powerful chorus, and giving Corvach a chance to shine with a very strong and soulful extended solo as the song reaches its conclusion.
More material in this vein would have lead to me giving this album a warmer reception; as it stands, it’s a pleasant and serviceable release, but really no more than that, and I feel that the band need to work on stronger material (and employ a less vocally-dominant approach!) if they are to make much of an impact on the modern day progressive rock scene.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Pablo Sangineto - Constelaciones
Tracklist: Parte I (4:00), Parte II (2:28), Parte III (8:36), Parte IV (5:26), Parte V (7:25), Parte VI (2:23), Parte VII (1:37), Parte VIII (1:20), Parte IX (1:57), Parte X (1:48), Parte XI (4:24), Parte XII (4:37)
In many respects the CD currently in my player is a simple one, even down to the track titles. In Constelaciones (Constellations) we have a collection of acoustic piano pieces penned and played by the hand(s) of one Pablo Sangineto, a young keyboard player hailing from Argentina. This is not the first time this name has crossed my path, for back in 2003 we favourably reviewed the Hormonal album by Omnia, a five piece band from Buenos Aires. However on Constelaciones there are no banks of keyboards, no drums or guitars, in fact the only other musician on the album is fellow band guest Rodrigo Socolsky who adds some gentle flute melodies to tracks VI and VII.
Now it would be very simple here to make comparisons to other solo albums from (famous) keyboardist who have shrugged off their respective bands and undertaken such albums, however other than the fact that Constelaciones is one man and one piano, there is little to link them together. Pablo Sangineto has his own voice and draws more on lighter classical side of piano music, Claude Debussy being the most obvious, and with perhaps Sangineto's progressive and jazzy leanings colouring the music further. All twelve pieces, in general, have a relaxed and somewhat melancholic nature to them, although this should not suggest that they lack either dynamic or feeling. Or in fact that this might imply pieces akin to "lounge" music - far from it.
Now undertaking a track by track analysis would be somewhat superfluous, but note should be made of certain pieces. Both the opening and closing tracks are superb pieces with immediate melodies and the latter containing strong variations of light and shade. Enjoyable too were the two tracks with Socolsky's flute - both restful with the latter being for solo flute. There is also a touching immediacy to this album, with the headphones on you almost feel that you are in the room with Pablo - the recording is so faithful that even the piano pedals are audible in certain tracks.
So there we have it, a simple album in many respects, but a delightful diversion all the same. An album that shall find its way into my CD player often as I relax at the end of the day. Well worth purchasing if you are fond of relaxing and absorbing piano music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Joost - Voluntary
Tracklist: Magic Lantern (4:40), Sanguis Christi (6:53), What You Could Be (4:18), Cylia (Futari No Izikumari) (5:15), AOZORA [Blue Sky] (5:01), Jenny (Deaf Girl) (3:16), Burning the Torn Shell (6:19), Follow Your Dreams (3:55), Beautycage (5:58), Bound (3:11), Flight (4:42)
Writing a review is a balancing act. On the one hand, and especially in the cases where a debut is being reviewed, the review has to contain some measure of encouragement. Even if only through some crazy, idealistic devotion to the Platonic Form of “Fairness,” a reviewer should mention what is good about any particular recording under scrutiny, what is successful in it, and with which building blocks the artist can continue aesthetic development. Unless the release is sheer vanity and sonic vomit, a kind word or two goes a long way. On the other hand…the reviewer’s obligation to the listening, purchasing public isn’t marginal. The truth has to be expressed, and if Abraham Prog and the Prognauts’ latest release is a pile of chilly dog scat, well, the reviewer should say just that, even at the expense of said Abraham’s frail, sensitive ego. It’s a balancing act that I once again perform as I review Joost’s Voluntary.
Joost might be the name of the band or it might just be the name under which Joost Doesburg offers his music for consideration. (In otherwords, “Joost” could be the equivalent of “Van Halen” or “Prince,” I’m just not sure.) Regardless, Voluntary is Joost’s debut release (and a collection of demos, apparently, but the sound is far better than demo quality). Joost Doesburg wrote all of the songs, plays the majority of instruments, and sings. He is aided by Lori Linstruth (solo guitar on Cylia), Wido de Klein (lead guitar on AOZORA), and Daniël Debie (keyboards on AOZORA and Flight). Joost is intended as a blend of progressive rock and modern Japanese music; I don’t get the sense that Joost is a touring ensemble or even plans to be, but instead prefers to work solely in the studio, which is fine, really.
Let’s start with the vocals. Joost Doesburg, to my ears, sounds very much like a cross between latter-day Geoff Tate (in his lower-range delivery) and the lead singers of Tiles and Green Day. It’s a bit too nasal for my taste but it’s OK; Joost has a solid understanding of vocal dynamics, phrasing, melody, and harmony. Maybe there are a few too many syllables in some of the phrases, making the lyrics sound rushed or coerced. The vocals are basically pretty good, just not my preference in a singing voice.
Musically, there are definitely some prog embellishments but largely this is a rock-and-roll affair, drawing very much from the contemporary, alternative sound. The tempos are predominantly fast and the use of time- and pace-change isn’t very pronounced.
The keyboards tend to be used for flavouring, and some of the tones are annoying (as on Magic Lantern), but mostly they’re effective. I more enjoyed the guitar work and arrangements for guitar: sometimes dense and thick, sometimes bee-buzzing and brittle. I thought there was a distinct U2 influence in some of the riffing (Follow Your Dreams, for example). Joost does employ some catchy choruses, which I always like to hear.
As for particular tunes, I thought Jenny was a sweet ballad, without the typical cloyingness you hear in a lament. I liked the foot-tapping shuffle of Follow Your Dreams. Beautycage opens with a soft, dreamy mood that’s pretty inviting.
All-in-all, this isn’t a bad beginning, although I can’t guarantee that it’s worth your hard-earned cash, over and above some of the other CDs I’ve lauded here at DPRP. The lyrics are intelligent; the engineering and mix are well done; the playing is certainly respectable; and the variety between tracks is noticeable and keeps Voluntary from redundancy, which is a great thing. I’m not sure that this CD is a prog-fan’s dream, though, because the progginess is just too minimal. But, it’s a decent, modern offering with some tips-o’-the-hat to prog, and it merits a listen or two, especially if you happen to like Tiles and that brand of modern-rock-with-prog-tinge. I’ll look forward to Joost’s next release.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Pablo - El Enterrador
Tracklist: Carrousell de la vieja idiotez (5:37), Elefantes de papel (5:04), Quien gira y quien suena (5:43), Ilusion en siete octavos (4:50), Accionista (3:15), Dentro del corral (6:02), Espiritu esfumado (3:50), La herencia de Pablo (7:16), Celeste cielo (3:44), Bananas (3:05), Se tu payaso (5:51), Los juegos del hombre (4:52)
I don’t know very much about Pablo. The CD packaging text, including song lyrics, is all in Spanish, which is usual for a Viajero Inmovil Records release, but which I don’t read. I’m guessing that the band is of Argentinean origin since that’s where El Enterrador was recorded. The album seems to have been originally released in 1983, which makes sense, since Viajero is largely preoccupied with reissuing South American (or maybe purely Argentinean) progressive music that missed world-wide notice first time out of the chute. The members of the band are Jorge Antún on Oberheim OBX and Hammond organ; Marcelo Sali on drums; José María Blanc on acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, and vocals; and Omar A. López on Yamaha CP 70, Arp Pro and Minimoog. (On the bonus tracks, Antún is absent, Maclo Poderoska handles the bass guitar, and Darío Del Bono lends a hand on keyboards.) As you’ll note, the keyboardists are abundant in Pablo’s line-up, and the music always has a bona fide progressive feel courtesy of Antún, López et al. If keyboard progressive rock is your bag, especially the late ‘70s style, then you’ll probably enjoy El Enterrador.
It’s hard to list Pablo’s resonances with other prog bands because the band never sounds expressly like any other, it just offers sonic hints and teases. At times, the music reminds me of U.K., except that it has Latin swing and more major-chord brightness to it. The synths are mildly reminiscent of Rush’s Permanent Waves-to-Signals era, but the fills are more prominent and dexterous and less for the sake of mood and coloration. Sometimes I even think I hear post-Hackett Genesis in the mix, or maybe something from Saga’s heyday. There’s also a measure of Queen-style arena rock here, mostly just a tendency toward exaggeration and melodrama; it’s not offensive, at all, and adds some life here-and-there to otherwise mundane tracks.
I didn’t care especially for the singing but it’s OK, certainly: sometimes it’s not the case that a singer is untalented but that the range and timbre aren’t what you prefer. The guitar work is actually very good for such a keyboard-driven affair, although the electric riffs do sometimes recall the late ‘80s arena-pop of Journey, REO Speedwagon, Survivor, etc. The CD suffers on two minor fronts, though. It’s too long (with four bonus tracks, it clocks in at just shy of an hour, which is too lengthy for my taste). Also, there isn’t a great deal of variation between the tracks: everything moves with speedy, Latin groove and the keyboard sounds are similar throughout the recording. I felt that a track-by-track breakdown would’ve have been silly for this disc, as it’s all “of a piece,” although I do want to single out Ilusion en siete octavos as a flavourful tune. In fact, it’s all pretty palatable, no question, but I could have done with a more diverse offering.
I’ll simply say that this is a fair album, no more and no less. If you love Spanish singing, Latin beats, and prog synths, you’ll love this. My hunch is that this is only of moderate interest to most prog fans, because they’ve all heard this style many times over, but it’s still a job well done: tight playing, smart arrangements, and doses of flair. Not my favourite album ever, but worth a spin of two, if you’re in the keyboard mood.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10