Reviews in this issue:
- Various Artists - After The Storm ~ A Benefit Album For The Survivors Of Hurricane Katrina
- Tim Morse – Transformation
- Like Wendy - Endgame
- Area 39 - Stand Alone Together
- Cyndee Lee Rule – UFOsmosis
- Mr Brown - Mellan Tre Ögon
- Pax Romana - Trace Of Light
- Present - A Great Inhumane Adventure
Various Artists - After The Storm ~
A Benefit Album For The Survivors Of Hurricane Katrina
Disc One: Echolyn - 15 Days (5:10), Happy the Man - Ibby It Is [Live] (8:17), FM - Random Harvest (4:38), Camel - After All These Years (5:53), Mike Keneally - Time Table (6:16), Spock's Beard - Shining Star [Live] (5:53), IQ - Chemical Rain (5:26), Kraan - Silver Buildings (4:41), Mostly Autumn - Ghost In Dreamland (3:12), IZZ - My River Flows (5:28), Nektar - Phazed By The Storm (9:23), Sean Malone - Grace [Live] (7:10)
Disc Two: Kansas - Song for America (9:13), The Flower Kings - A King's Prayer [Remix] (6:03), Woodenhead - Buzz Beat [Live] (6:45), Djam Karet - The Shattering Sky (6:02), Neal Morse - Sleeping Jesus (Live) (5:18), The Muffins - Essay R [Remix] (5:53), Caravan - Love Song With Flute [Live] (4:06), Änglagård - Gånglåt Från Knapptibble (7:18), Little Atlas - On And On (5:34), Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Pools Of Sorrow/Not Over You (5:25), California Guitar Trio - Zundoko Bushi [Live] (3:47), Pendragon - Sou' By Sou'west (6:50)
After The Storm is a compilation album aimed to raise funds for Habitat For Humanity and their work in aiding the unfortunate victims of the Katrina Hurricane that hit the Gulf coast region of the USA back in August of last year. Produced by Djam Karet's Gayle Ellett, the double CD has a running time approaching 2.5 hours, contains 24 tracks by today's leading Progressive Rock artists, over half of which are previously unreleased. Given the large amount of material the release contains, this review will have to be somewhat perfunctory, but hopefully will give the reader a flavour of what is on offer, particularly in relation to unreleased material.
Echolyn kick off proceedings with 15 Days which is another strong track from this excellent US band, sitting comfortably alongside material from their most recent DPRP Recommended CD. Happy The Man's contribution, recorded live at Progday 2005, is a fine version of a track that originally appeared on their 1978 album Crafty Hands, very mellow but rather engaging. The 80s Canadian band FM celebrate their reformation by donating a track from their third album, Surveillance. An okay song, although not any great shakes on the progressive front, but first time it has ever appeared on CD. Those nice people at Camel have diverted cash from being spent on high priced import CDs into the charity coffers by rescuing After All These Years from the Japanese release of another DPRP recommended album, A Nod And A Wink. An excellent instrumental number that to my mind, surpasses a lot of the material on the US and UK versions of that CD.
I don't know a lot about Mike Keneally but his amalgamation of two classic Genesis tracks, Time Table and Apocalypse In 9/8 is very impressive. Spock's Beard's live version of Shining Star, recorded in 2003, follows the Feel Euphoria studio version closely but heard outside the context of that album gives it a new breath of life. Chemical Rain should really be credited to Michael Holmes rather than IQ as it really is a solo composition and performance, no guitars either! Vocals sampled from the IQ song Subterranea so Peter Nicholls' characteristic voice is present but overall it is more electronic and experimental that the usual IQ fare. Still, ain't grumbling as it is a brilliantly atmospheric track displaying Holmes' studio mastery. German band Kraan set the stall for their forthcoming new album with the rather good title track Silver Buildings. Methinks I'll have to check out some more of their stuff. Mostly Autumn offer up a track from the recent album Storms Over Still Water which sounds like, well Mostly Autumn. Having never heard of Izz before I was fairly impressed by the title track from their new album My River Flows. Veering to the heavier end of the prog spectrum there is something different and potentially interesting about this band. Nektar contribute the entirely appropriate Phazed By The Storm from their 2004 album Evolution, which somehow DPRP forgot to review. Still it is great and would no doubt have been a recommended release had we reviewed it. Rounding off Disc one is Sean Malone. Another artist I know nothing about but obviously he is a new father as his website redirects to a site of baby Malone photos! Recorded live at NEARfest in 2004, the rather ambient Grace is okay, but ends the first disc on a bit of a downbeat. Interestingly the credits state that Malone was the only performer on this piece, on fretless bass. If that's true then he is a master of electronic wizardry, combining a multitude of different sounds.
Kansas have the honour of setting Side Two off in classic style with a live version of Song For America recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and previously released on Always Never The Same. Simple to say, great symphonic prog! Next come The Flower Kings. They have reworked and remixed A King's Prayer from their 2000 album Space Revolver. I'm not a FK fan and no amount of reworking or remixing would convince me otherwise, particularly on this rather bland, cod anthemic, although undoubtedly earnest, effort. Guitar solo is quite nice though. New Orleans' own Woodenhead do their bit for their homelands with a 1995 live recording of Buzz Beat. Idiosyncratic, quirky and fun. The always excellent Djam Karet treat us with the previously unreleased The Shattering Sky. Even though you gotta love this band, on this piece they may have overdone the keyboard sequencing. Despite that, it's still a groove. In complete contrast, Neal Morse presents a live rendition of Sleeping Jesus from yet another DPRP recommended release, Testimony. Not the best track off that album, the live version is saved ('scuse the pun) by Mike Portnoy's drumming but gets my vote for most cringe-inducing moment with the plea to 'praise god' midway through. The Muffins generate a New Orleans vibe (sort of) with an alternative mix of Essay R from their 2002 album Bandwidth. Although a whole album of this sax infused music would probably be beyond me, this single track makes a nice change in proceedings.
The always fab Caravan contribute a live and acoustic version of Love Song With Flute. A fantastic song which hasn't dated since it was first released 38 years ago, you can watch this performance on the recently released, reviewed and recommended 30th Anniversary Concert DVD. Änglagård's Gånglåt Från Knapptibble was a bonus track on the re-mastered version of Hybris. Recorded back in 1994, this piece is musically on a par with the debut album, mixing some lovely flute playing and the usual angular performance of the rest of the musicians (including the obligatory Mellotron). Little Atlas are another band I was not familiar with. On And On comes from third album Wanderlust, which I'm sure you'll be surprised to read was recommended by DPRP! This song garnered some nice comments by our ace reviewer which can be read here. Arjen Anthony Lucassen has released a bewildering number albums with his alternate mix of Pools of Sorrow / Not Over You being culled from the album Pools Of Sorrow, Waves Of Joy (which, bizarrely, doesn't seem to be listed on his website). A rather mixed bag, great intro, a voice like the chap from Lone Star but messed up by a load of synth noodlings. Take those out and the track would, in my humble opinion, be fantastically better. Perhaps the original mix would be more to my liking? Dubious honour of worst sounding recording goes to the California Guitar Trio with their live Zudoko Bushi. Sounds like it was recorded in a toilet which is a shame as it is a fun musical meander with a surfrock feel and includes snippets of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man and Vroom. Closing the album is Pendragon and the second part of the epic The Wishing Well from 2005 album Believe (follow the link to see if we recommended it or not!). Love them or hate them, you'll never mistake a Pendragon song for anyone else and this one is on a par with their best material.
So there you have it, a rather superior collection of material collated and sold for a very worthy cause. As you might have guessed from the number of DPRP recommendations alluded to in this review, the music is of the highest quality - we don't hand out recommendations lightly, trying to maintain a quality threshold, although of course, it is all subjective! However, the scope of music on this release is impressive and there is a very good chance that if you purchase a copy you will come across some new and interesting bands as well as adding some rare material to your collection AND giving to charity. And if that isn't three good reasons to buy a copy, then I don't know what is.
Conclusion: Not Rated but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
NB: This CD was purchased at the full price and not donated by Record Label or any of the contributing bands. We've made the effort, shouldn't you?
Tim Morse – Transformation
Tracklist: Present Moment (6:16), To Set Sail (7:14), Prelude (3:26), Goodbye (5:27), Shatter (8:58), Temptation (8.01), Adrift (4:30), Apocalyptic Visions (16:14), Ascension (3:40)
If the name Tim Morse rings any bells, then you will probably have a copy of 'Yesstories' tucked away on your bookshelf. In addition to the collection of interviews with Yes, the author and musician from Sacramento, California is also keyboard player with American Yes tribute band Parallels. His first album Transformation is the result of two years of writing and recording with fellow musician and producer Mark Dean. Together they have crafted an interesting and expansive collection of symphonic prog songs. Morse plays all keyboards and provides lead and backing vocals on several tracks. In addition to the crystal clear production, the multi-talented Dean is responsible for guitars, drums, bass and backing vocals. Richie Zeller supplies the lead vocals on the majority of the tracks, and several friends provide additional instrumentation and backing vocals.
Present Moment is an up tempo song that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The overall mood is a bold and confident transatlantic prog sound with shades of Kansas, Rush and Trevor Rabin/ Billy Sherwood influenced Yes. Lead singer Zeller works hard to inject the necessary drama, but unfortunately his vocals sound strained and lack the fineness to do the song full justice. The backing vocals are effective however, and there’s plenty of pomp in the keys and strident guitar work. Following a deceptively dreamy soundscape intro, To Set Sail continues the buoyant mood with Zeller adopting Rabin style vocalising with a dash of heavy metal posturing thrown in. Morse and Dean conjure up a heady, spiralling mix of synth, organ and guitar, with the later sounding particularly inventive. Symphonic keys produce a tranquil conclusion. Prelude is a short but welcome instrumental with beautiful Steve Hackett style solo classical guitar courtesy of Kurt Shiflet. This soon becomes swamped by bombastic organ, guitar and drums, and is followed by haunting piano, bells and celestial organ.
In Goodbye, the vocals of Zeller and Morse combine for a more relaxed and soulful sound with a hint of Level 42. This is a strong mid tempo song featuring a soaring guitar solo from Dean. A simple but plaintive vocal against solo piano brings one of the albums least complex and most memorable songs to a close. Shatter is another densely textured piece which includes bombastic Yes Talk era guitar, organ and bass; a piano version of the opening riff from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells; and Rick Wakeman inspired synth runs. A sequence half way through would make a suitable soundtrack to a horror movie with eerie violin from Scott Joss, amplified piano strings, flute, and strange chants produced by reversing the vocals. It’s not particular original however, the Electric Light Orchestra did it better some 30 years ago. Special mention has to go to the expressive piano and commanding bass work that provide a solid foundation throughout the song. Temptation opens with sunny acoustic guitar and piano before rhythmic violin takes over. The song features melodic instrumental passages with stately synth and flute, offset with a dynamic electric guitar and synth duel. The bass work is inspired throughout and the drum sound is a throwback to Union era Bill Bruford. Only the lead vocals let the side down, although the quality backing vocals provide moments of compensation.
Adrift is for me one of the albums better tracks with a slow and uncluttered style that allows the melody to shine through. Morse delivers the heartfelt lyrics with a 6 and 12 string acoustic guitar arrangement straight out of the Anthony Phillips stable. A hint of weeping electric guitar provides a poignant close. Apocalyptic Visions is the albums magnum opus, although the warfare sound effects are not a very original way to start. The haunting choral effects and ambient Tangerine Dream textures work better, heralding a strong bass and organ led rhythm. The drums have that distinctive Bruford rim shot snare sound, and the weighty combination of piano, organ and synth is a reminder of Keith Emerson in full flight. Electric guitar drifts seamlessly from fluid phrases to metal power chords and back again. Morse again provides the lead vocals supported by Bruce Hornsby inspired rippling piano and a strong melody. The mid section with the sensitive vocal on a wave of symphonic keys is a highlight. The bike impression from the guitar at the end suggests that Dean has spent too much time listening to Bat Out Of Hell. The all too brief and atmospheric instrumental Ascension pays homage to Jon Anderson’s Olias Of Sunhillow, and provides a serene and calming conclusion to the album.
I’ve probably spent more time getting to know this album before finalising the review than any other. It not only rewards repeated listening, it demands it. Initially I couldn’t decided if it was an intelligent and eclectic slice of prog, or a series of random ideas and influences strung together with little thought for continuity. The jury is still out, but I’m leaning very much in its favour. I’m still not entirely convinced; there are so many twists and turns it often feels like changes for changes sake. New ideas and themes are constantly being introduced and then quickly disappear without being fully developed. The most successful tracks for me are those with more space that give the melody a chance to breathe. However, although it’s a bumpy ride at times, it’s certainly an exhilarating one and keeps the listener on their toes. I was always a pushover for multi-layered and richly textured music, and this album has that in spades. Had Morse and Dean exercised more restraint then I feel that a more mature work would have resulted, but would it have been as much fun? Possibly not. I recommend you give it a try and decide for yourself.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Like Wendy - Endgame
Tracklist: Mock Me! (10:54), Radioactive Girl (6:40), Subs (5:28), Seventeen (8:15), Money For Monkey's (6:17), Moria (8:33), Endgame (9:39)
When it feels like a bread, when it smells like a bread and when it even tastes like a bread, it must be a bread. The same system usually applies for bands; when the name sounds like a band and when it sounds like a band it must be a band. But in this particular case it is not! Dutch Bert Heinen is and always was the sole member of Like Wendy although the music doesn't sound like a one-man project at all! Using the fine art of multi-tracking to perfection he manages to lay down a full sound all on his own, but saying that I must directly correct myself again. On this sixth album of Like Wendy Bert for the first time called in the help of another musician, Mark-Jeroen Heek.
It has been made clear that Mark-Jeroen is not a drummer like the 'Marien' mentioned on the early Like Wendy albums who eventually turned out to be just a pseudonym of Bert himself. But it's not clear exactly what contributions Mark-Jeroen did make to this album. The press-sheet also keeps us in a blur saying "Mark-Jeroen's presence helps to refresh the concept. But this luckily still sounds like the old Like Wendy. The most significant changes are the inclusion of some lovely old-school (prog-)rock influences and that the album sounds a bit more hard edged and unpolished than earlier Like Wendy albums". And to keep the mystery and magic alive it ends with: "The king is dead, long live the king. Well actually it's more like he has found a long-lost brother, who was left out in the woods by the wicked witch years ago only to be.... Whatever". This could imply that Mark-Jeroen was one of the guys Bert initially tried to form a band with back in the late nineteen-eighties, which didn't work out prompting Bert to make music on his own. Who knows, but in any case there's no doubt in my mind Bert is still the main force behind Like Wendy, a name that by the way comes from 'Laiquendi', a people from Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", who were "Sometimes heard but seldom seen". That's another indication Bert is very fond of mysticism and myths, certainly when you know he named one of his cats 'Arwen'.
Endgame does indeed sound more proggier and rockier than for instance its predecessor Homeland from 2003 that sounded a bit tame and unexciting. So the addition of Mark-Jeroen did indeed spark the flame and resulted in one of the best albums by Like Wendy. The album is filled with a very wide variation of rich sounds which has an up and downside to it. It does make the album very varied and interesting to hear, but it also brings along the risk that it becomes not so consistent. Bert and Mark-Jeroen however managed to mould the whole load of different instruments and sounds into a coherent total product with the occasional exception when the listener is surprised by their choice of using a certain instrument or sound at that spot or an unexpected change of melody. But these surprises are short and not disturbing and sometimes even pleasant, so they get away with it. In general Like Wendy weaves beautiful sound-carpets of several kind of keys and tops them with melodic guitars, vocals and sorts resulting in a quite easy-listening neo-prog sound. The vocals fit in also very well, they are not to prominent present, sound really smooth and varied and there are some very nice harmonies.
References that can be named are numerous, most of the big names have left their mark here and there. There's even a slight similarity, mainly in the vocal department, between the track Radioactive Girl and the similar titled song by Porcupine Tree Radioactive Toy. On the originality scale Endgame won't score pretty high, but who cares if the final result is a very enjoyable high quality album? The song structures and instrumentations are great, there's not really a weak moment on the album, but also not a song that really stands out from the rest, so basic quality all the way through. This is definitely an album for all mainstream prog lovers, but it does also include some unique and creative surprises so it won't bore you easily.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Area 39 - Stand Alone Together
Tracklist: The Dreamer Dreams (5:41), Beyond The Clouds (3:53), Through The Eye Of A Telescope (5:54), Universal Dot To Dot (3:36), Changing Horizon (3:37), The Dreamers Dreamed (7:14)
Area 39, named after the area in the brain that reacts to creative activities and not some hypothetical restricted area in the US dealing with alien space craft (that's Area 51!) is the brainchild ('scuse the pun) of Ray Turrell. Originally a band formed way back in 1995, the group dissolved after founder member and Turrell's creative foil, Dave Barlow, decided to quit. Zip forward to 2002 and Turrell hadn't managed to get a new group together so, on the encouragement of various friends, decided to go it alone. With a collection of ideas and musical fragments, work started on pulling together the various elements of Stand Alone Together. With a recording history that stretches back to June 2003, the album has been a long time in gestation, so was it worth the wait?
Based around the Apollo 11 space mission of 1969 and the surrounding conspiracy theories that Armstrong and Aldrin never set foot on the moon (see Capricorn One for an entertaining film on this issue), the album mixes excellent atmospheric music with original NASA audio commentary from the actual Apollo 11 mission as well as newly created 'radio' reports and other spoken word parts. The result is an engaging and enjoyable album throughout. All credit must go to the supporting musicians - vocalists Paula Cunningham, David Roy and Nicki Allan, guitarist Gavin Fletcher, drummer Wayne Sowden and keyboardist John Grosberg - whose contributions mesh together harmoniously.
The music itself bears some structural comparisons to Pink Floyd, and particularly Dark Side of the Moon - Changing Horizon takes its cue from On The Run, the use of spoken comments inserted before the last track and the vocals on The Dreamers Dreamed is stylistically related to The Great Gig In The Sky. However, don't think that this is a just a Floyd rip-off, it certainly isn't. Opener The Dreamer Dreams sets the scene with some beautifully understated keyboards and guitar providing a wonderfully atmospheric and melodic introduction with some nice vocals from Cunningham. Beyond The Clouds also scores on the vocal front with Cunningham effectively counter pointed with Roy and Allen adding a background choir. Some aggressive guitar parts are expanded on in the heaviest track of the album, Through The Eye Of the Telescope. Musically aggressive it potently represents the violence and energy of the launch of a space rocket.
Universal Dot To Dot has, unsurprisingly, a very spacey vibe to it and is heavy on the atmospherics encompassing the famous words of Neil Armstrong as he accomplished "mankind's greatest achievement". Having previously mentioned that the final two tracks bear resemblance to a rather more famous album, I have to state that they are probably two of the strongest tracks on the album. The multitude of sounds created on Changing Horizon make listening through headphones a unique experience and The Dreamers Dreamed is quite the tour de force, the keyboards and guitar under the interviews reiterates the melody of the introduction with all the musicians contributing to the fine instrumental build up to the dramatic climax where Allan gives her all to create a dramatic and rousing conclusion.
They say good things come in small packages. Being only 30 minutes long, Stand Alone Together is certainly, by today's standards, a small package. But boy, is it good.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Cyndee Lee Rule – UFOsmosis
Tracklist: Putting The Rip In Strip (7:17), Congress Reel (2:47), As Go The Moments (6:24), The Inner Light (2:34), Scarborough Fair (2:48), Seven Cities Of Gold (9:06), Assassins Of Allah (4:21), Weekend Affair (6:16), What On Earth? (6:29), Telekinetigram (4:50), Something I Should Have Said (6:03)
A recent Hawkwind biography revealed (to me anyway) that Simon House, their in/out/in again violinist has taken to wearing dresses. Perhaps he is feeling the heat of competition, as Cyndee Lee Rule is a very fetching young lady and she sure plays a mean violin. She also has a Hawkwind connection, having played with Nik Turner and Spaceseed, as well as Thee Maximalists, Stellarscope, her current band Scattered Planets and she also took part in the Systems Theory Project. Greg Amov and Steven Devies-Morris, both from that project, supply the musical backing on this, the debut solo release from Miss Rule.
Both the title and the crazy cover art (by Daevid Allen of Gong) place this disc firmly in the Space Rock genre, and whilst this is borne out from the psychedelic opener Putting The Rip In Strip onwards, it is also readily apparent from the outset that this is a genre-busting cross-cultural pot-pourri of a disc. Dance beats and Electronica, courtesy of the Systems Theory pair, rub shoulders with Eastern motifs, Ozrics style rambling riffarama, Folk Jigs, Symphonic sweeps, Jazz sensibilities and Hard Rock nous – you name it, there’s probably a hint of it here.
Mainly co-composed by Cyndee, with one or other of Morris or Amov, they find room for two traditional tunes Scarborough Fair and Congress Reel, and a cover each from George Harrison – The Inner Light – and Hawkwind – Assassins Of Allah (Perhaps it’s this that has got Mr House worried! Actually, he shouldn’t be – this version lacks the punch of the original, though it doesn’t try to reproduce the sound, going instead for a tribal/electro feel).
The original material is pretty strong throughout, but steadily improves as the disc progresses, with What On Earth? and Something I Should Have Said both being standout cuts.
For my money, I’d leave out the folk tunes, they do add variety, but they are not as strong as the original material, and Congress Reel in particular, sounds like the cast of Riverdance on speed, quite an unsettling thought! I’d also like to hear Cyndee play with a more conventional band line-up, as the programmed drums sometimes grate on me – this is a personal preference though and your mileage may vary.
So, for the most part, a thoroughly enjoyable first outing for a talented violinist, and it should find favour with Hawkwind/Ozrics/Gong fans and also possibly have a high cross-over potential to fans of other genres like techno, world beat and fusion to name but three.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mr Brown - Mellan Tre Ögon
Tracklist: Suicide (6:54), Recall the Future (9:29), Resan Till Ixtlan (3:25), Universe (3:39), Kharma 74 (5:52), Liv I Stad Utan Liv (7:00), Tornet (0:57), I’ll Arise (2:39)
Is “mild” an overlooked word? A misunderstood word? A tired, weary word, or an infinitely descriptive word with refinement and fine distinction? I think it’s a fascinating word, really, because it’s highly malleable and flexible to the nth degree.
Consider: If you are concerned about tomorrow’s weather, and the TV meteorologist informs you that tomorrow the region will enjoy a “mild” weather pattern, then that’s good news. It means, basically, that the day will be pleasant, enjoyable, free from the ravages of extreme precipitation, humidity, temperature, and wind, and that you can wear comfortable clothes and conduct your business without boots, slicker, mittens, ice cleats, or a military sub-arctic parka.
However, if the enchantress of your nights, your coy queen, your elegant seductress and personal diva, tells you straight up that her love for you is only “mild,” then you are disappointed and wait upon the inevitable news that you have been cuckolded. When love is mild, it is not love: it is convenience, or boredom, or ennui, or self-abnegation. Whereas the weather report has made you happy, your lover has made you sad, and both have wrought an effect upon your heart and soul with the use of a simple, perhaps negligible little word, “mild”. Ah, the power of language! It consoles or it rends.
Anyway, what I want to impress upon you is that I employ the meteorological intention and definition when I say that, in the end, I judged Mr. Brown’s Mellan Tre Ögon as decidedly “mild”. It is pleasurable, it is entertaining, it is comfortingly fair. It does, however, lack that extremeness for which (and opposite, perhaps, of our weather preferences) we progressive-rock fans secretly wish, even whilst content on a most halcyon day. After a cold, snowy, extended Winter, we welcome a mild Spring day with joy, but too much mildness makes us long even for a hurricane or a blizzard, if only to give us cause for complaint! Alas, though we fear it, we are addicted to change and novelty.
Now, I love Record Heaven, it’s one of my favourite contemporary prog-rock labels. I’ve loved the label ever since I heard Bigelf and Lucifer Was’ In Anadi’s Bower (maybe one of the grooviest 5/4 songs I’ve ever experienced, with apologies to Living in the Past). I can gel pretty well to any Record Heaven release, and honestly, Mellan Tre Ögon wasn’t too much of an exception. It is good, to be honest, but…it’s just not mind-expandingly terrific.
Mr. Brown is an old-school progressive rock band, in the realest possible sense. It no longer exits (I think) and instead had its heyday in the 1970s. The band originated in Almhult, Sweden, and was heavily influenced by the more-symphonic prog of the era (e.g., Genesis and Focus). The line-up was as follows: Hakan Andersson on acoustic guitar, mandolin, and vocals; Bo Carlbeg on acoustic and electric guitars; Kjell Johnson on “trummor”; Lars Meding on guitar; Anders Nilson keyboards and percussion; Jan Peter Strahle on “flojt”; and Robert Svenson on bass guitar. Mr. Brown recorded only one album, Mellan Tre Ögon, which was originally released in 1977. By that time, the appeal of art rock and progressive music was dwindling and Mr. Brown, along with countless other similar bands, found itself out of favour with the contemporary audiences. So, with Mellan Tre Ögon, we have Mr. Brown’s only recorded output, generously re-released by Record Heaven.
For me, the band is indeed reminiscent of Focus, and perhaps does not echo Genesis overly much. Further, I heard decided strains that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pink Floyd, Camel, or Jethro Tull album. I’d agree that Mellan Tre Ögon offers symphonic prog, perhaps boosted with a little more blues-based, hard-rocking electric guitar than is found in typical symphonic prog. Let’s discuss a few examples.
Recall the Future, the CD’s second track, is perhaps my favourite. It opens with a compelling tom-tom driving beat and a jagged bit of guitar. The track features some confident keyboard work and a smooth but not fey flute line (quite like Focus). This is an instrumental track, as are the majority on Mellan Tre Ögon, and the mandolin break is nifty, sounding a lot like Tull (Locomotive Breath) and Camel (The Snow Goose). The lead guitarist is very strong here and throughout and reminds me greatly of David Gilmour and Andy Latimer. The composition is a little overwrought, as there are too many varying sections, but overall Recall is an excellent showcase for Mr. Brown’s musical strengths.
Universe features some melodic singing and an airy, relaxed major key. It’s a simple track but it’s got a pretty atmosphere. The background vocals and spacey effects all contribute to the ambience very nicely. The song definitely leans into pop territory, reminding me of songs by Al Stewart, early Ambrosia, Alan Parsons, and even John Lennon (#9 Dream).
And, I’ll mention Kharma 74 for the exquisite fast-paced jam in the middle of the tune, featuring congas, flute, and a sax solo with just a touch of King Crimson discord. It’s reminiscent of early Tull with its bluesy drive and Arabic/Indian flavourings.
There are definitely some missteps on the album. The singing is generally poor. There is a general lack of movement and variety on the tracks and the chord patterns are predictable. There isn’t much virtuosity here, either, although the playing is competent and enthusiastic. And the English lyrics, are…well, here’s a sample: “I’ll arise with the sun/leaving my penguin behind./Hm, hm, hm, hm/la, da, da, da/like a nut.” Um…if you say so.
But, as I opine above, it’s as hard to hate this album as it would be hard to hate a 60 degree day with sunshine and a light breeze. It’s hardly stellar (and I received a CD-R that was marginally faulty, which doesn’t help matters) but it’s entertaining for 35 minutes or so.
Sadly, while there’s really not that much on Mellan Tre Ögon to pan, I can’t recommend the album very highly because the prog fans who might enjoy it have already heard the material bettered by Floyd, Tull, Camel, and Focus. So, I can’t recommend that anyone rush out to buy Mr. Brown’s sole offering to prog posterity. But if the CD falls into your lap somehow, and you need a dose of something mildly enjoyable, give it a play.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Pax Romana - Trace Of Light
Tracklist: Pilgrim: [a] Trace Of Light [b] Pilgrim [c] Thin Line (7:55), Sad Song (3:44), Moonlight Meadow (6:33), Ancient Queen And Modern Ladies (3:50), From The Mist Rows The Bard (4:37), Deeply Connected (8:09), Evening Breeze (2:27)
Funny story: Pax Romana is a Finnish band initially formed in the early 70´s, that due to lack of opportunities failed to produce any album at the time. In 2002 though, the members met again with an idea of getting back together for some concerts, one thing led to another, and here we are with their CD in our hands. The passing of time gave maturity to the band, something quite evident from the first moment, but doesn't seem to have taken away the sparkle of enthusiasm for what they are doing.
The music is not something I would describe as difficult or strange in any sense. Very similar to Camel, especially the Latimer-driven era, with some Floydian touches, but also a dreamy feeling like Pendragon. Pilgrim, the first track is composed of three parts: an instrumental opener that really sounds like the opening track of The Masquerade Overture (without the opera vocals), the beautiful Pilgrim where one can hear the Latimer-style guitars for the first time and get acquainted to the main(?) vocalist, Matti Kervinen - perfect for the job, mellow, structured singing - and the closing part which is a nice interplay between flute and keyboards. Sad Song though features the second singer, Matti Inkinen, whose voice sticks out making an interesting contrast with the first one: hoarse and not mellow, not a standard genre voice. Very interesting track that actually slightly deviates from the dreamy mist covered image that the rest of the album brings to mind.
Moonlight Meadow is a sweet song that features a great cello work and a Stationary Traveller atmosphere. I find the ending a bit too flat though, a more expressive voice would actually offer more-the way it is now, it is a bit long. Ancient Queen And Modern Ladies is based more on piano and acoustic guitar, and the presence of (singer No2) fits very well, together with the saxophone solo. A happier poppy-folky tune follows (hoarse voice again, not sure it fits well this time though), wouldn't say it's the most interesting track I heard in my life, but From the Mist Rows the Bard sounds pleasant with the Bardens-like keys. And thus we arrive to the highlight of the album, Deeply Connected. Also divided in two parts, a small intro and the main track, it is a really nice piece of simple progressive rock music, elegantly performed, starting as a ballad, evolving into a very emotional melancholic guitar tune, enhanced by cute backing vocals and occasionally violin. Evening Breeze calmly concludes the album.
One thing that I would like to mention is the bad mapping between the CD tracks and the back cover. The album is also too short: 37 minutes of music is a bit too few, although of course that is not what matters here. What matters is that we have an album with high standards from good mature musicians that apparently know very well what they are doing and what they want to do, without asking for more - something potentially positive and negative, depends whose side you are on. For me, an enjoyable and "noble" album. For people that still adore that calm Camel feeling, this is an undoubtedly interesting release. For others that seek adventure, improvisation or even provocation, try to appreciate the beauty in simplicity!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Present - A Great Inhumane Adventure
Tracklist: Delusions (14:46), Alone (10:58), Le Poison Qui Rend Fou (10:16), Laundry Blues (13:01), Promenade Au Fond d’un Canal (23:33)
I've had this CD in my possession now for the best part of six months and during this time I have been trying very hard to like it in order to say something positive. My initial reaction after first listening would be unprintable but as a long-time prog lover I know very well that some of the best music takes multiple listenings. Unfortunately, this is not the case here, despite attempting the disc on numerous occasions, each time has been akin to having a tooth extracted, most unpleasant.
Present's music is not the easiest to describe, the closest I can come with regards comparison would be a strange coupling between King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator and Philip Glass but without the melody of any of these artists. Delving through the web turned up quite some reviews of this CD, most of them very positive, was I missing something here? The official Present website has some samples from their previous albums and these aren't so bad at all, the studio versions of Delusions and Promenade are very similar to the live but far more listenable and I found myself perhaps even enjoying them. Returning to the live disc again brought only pain and misery - however, I'm not so sure that this isn't the desired reaction.
I must though give Roger Trigaux huge credit for ploughing his own furrow in the musical world over the last three decades and this could be the least commercial music I have ever heard. Along with his son Reginald and pianist Pierre Chevalier they create dense, repetitive, discordant and dark soundscapes interspersed with screaming guitar and strange lyrics. The drumming of Dave Kerman sounds heavily influenced by Guy Evans, busy and complex but complementing the music rather than dominating it. The bass of Jean-Pierre Mendes and guest Keith Machsoud also fits in well, the band is tight and well balanced.
So, why is this live disc so difficult when the studio stuff appears quite palatable? Present have a real raw edge to their live sound. They are clearly talented musicians with the music having elements of jazz, avant-garde, rock and prog, but it's maybe too rough and raw to the uninitiated. The guitar I found particularly unsettling, it's very high in the mix and harsh to say the least although the playing itself is just fine - think of Hammill's guitar tone on Modern from The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage.
If you are interested to get into Present I would heavily recommend that you start with their last two studio albums, High Infidelity and No. 6, which although still musically challenging at least have the benefit of a more mellow production. If, however you're already a fan of the band then it is a must-have, although just released it is the final show from their 1998 American tour played in front of a very appreciative audience.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10 (or 8 depending if you know the material already!)