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2006 : VOLUME 32

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Naikaku - Shell
Naikaku - Shell
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:PRF-033
FGBG 4440.AR
Year of Release:2006
Time:60:29
Info:Naikaku
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Crisis (15:18), Ressentiment (8:54), "untitled" (7:01), Lethe (9:01), Shell (16:28), Tautrology (3:47)

Yet again, here is another fine Musea/Poseidon release featuring adventurous music out of Japan that should appeal to a diverse audience.

Naikaku is officially a duo (bassist Satoshi Kobayashi and flautist Kazumi Suzuki) and the band was founded in 1998. Naikaku’s first album, Wheel Of Fortune, was released in 2003. On Shell, the duo is augmented by Norimitsu Endo (electric guitar); Mitsuo (electric and acoustic guitar, trumpet); Kei Fushimi (electric guitar); and Daichi Takagi (Minimoog, Mellotron samples, Yamaha CS-30). As a brief description, I can say that Naikaku’s sound is a blend of Roots To Branches–era Jethro Tull, 1990s prog guitar jamming (a la Ozric Tentacles and Djam Karet), King Crimson discord, mild free jazz, early-1970s metal (a la Deep Purple and Black Sabbath), a touch of Hendrixian shredding, and clever prog-rock composition. In sum, the offerings on Shell are lively, smart, and dexterous.

As there are only six tracks on Shell, I won’t play the spoiler and say too much about them. I will mention that the musicianship throughout the CD is incredible, especially Mr. Suzuki’s flute work and the overall intelligent use of the electric guitar. Crisis showcases an especially complex and lengthy arrangement that should win over any and all progressive rock fans. Mr. Suzuki’s playing is uncannily reminiscent of latter-day Ian Anderson with its employment of Asiatic halftones and busy trills. I thoroughly enjoyed the groove of Ressentiment even though I usually wouldn’t care for that particular style of repetitive guitar riffing. (I’m not sure whether Mr. Endo or Mr. Fushimi handles the solo but it is a smoker.) This track is a great example of Naikaku’s ability to combine grindcore bombast with some colour and texture straight out of the art rock canon. (Check out the creepy bridge around the four-minute mark.) The untitled third track has the absolutely coolest trumpet–flute duet I’ve ever heard, sitting on top of a solid, rocking funk, and the guitar solo is ear-blistering. And Lethe reminds me strongly of the jazzier, frenetic side of both Rush (YYZ) and Yes (Drama).

I pretty much loved this entire disc. It flags just slightly toward the end but even in flagging it is still high-minded and ballsy music. Shell does definitely offer some edgy guitar and bass work that has affinities with contemporary rock, but it also draws abundantly from the classic- and progressive-rock well. The playing is adept and forceful throughout the recording and never boring. I recommend this without reservation. If you like Roots To Branches, J-Tull.com, anything by Djam Karet or Ozric Tentacles, or are aware of and appreciate what seems to be a major renaissance in Japanese rock music, give Shell a try. It’s excellent stuff.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JOHN J SHANNON



Equilibrio Vital - Kazmor El Prisionero
Equilibrio Vital - Kazmor El Prisionero
Country of Origin:Venezuela
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4659.AR
Year of Release:1984/2006
Time:62:13
Info:N/A
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: El Ausente (4:28), Kazmor (4:57), Mi Cancion I (4:44), Lluvia Cosmica (7:19), Xskgriglam (7:46), Yellenik (3:17), Inocentes Perdidos (3:04), Mi Cancion II (2:12), Sudyenin (10:04), Tempestad (3:20), Mirando Al Horizonte (3:05), Campanas Al Viento (4:23), Volver (2:56)

This is the first band that ever came to my hands from Venezuela. Quite cut off from the part of the world where the progressive movement developed and flourished, it was immediately inviting to find out what sort of music these guys play. Notice that the album is the second album of the band, originally released in 1984 and reissued this year from Musea. Given that the reissue of their first album was brilliantly reviewed by Mark Hughes (Equilibrio Vital - Tributo A Marcos Chacón), I am going to point to that review for all of you who want to get some more information on the history of the band. However, I am going to repeat that the driving force of the band, Marcos Chacón, lead guitarist and composer of most of the music, passed out in 2001, which justifies the renaming of the reissue of their first album. Still, the band carries on and still offers nice music, though in a rather different style: more acoustic and easy. As done with the previous release Musea has added bonus tracks recorded during the past few years.

The singing is done entirely in Spanish. Apparently the band did not change styles between the first and this album, since I find most of Mark's pointers visible here too. The music basically is characterised by a very strong hard rock component which mainly draws inspiration from Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, even Kansas and Deep Purple sometimes. However, there are also more classic prog elements bringing Premiata Forneria Marconi sometimes to mind (maybe it's my impression because of the "Latin" language), Camel or Yes, going all the way to the limits: psychedelia - see Gong of early 70's and Focus.

The first track El Ausente is a quite strong introduction, featuring the duet between the female and male voice, a melodic basis with a more aggressive refrain. The solo in the middle is more of a rock than a prog nature since the keyboards are not much exploited and the electric guitar is dominant. Kazmor opens in an acoustic way with less harsh vocals, but the rock mood reappears fast. This time the guitar solo is embellished by an aggressive Tull influenced flute solo. The refrain is reminiscent of beginning of 80's period of PFM, rather poppy, but the song finishes very fast in a surprising change led by a rapid rhythm section and the contributions of the female vocals and the flute. The end actually sounds a lot like Hocus Pocus by Focus! Mi Cancion I and II are the Yes/Camel like ballad, and its electric version, respectively, though I absolutely prefer to former (mood plus the wonderful slow guitar in the end).

Psychedelia starts to manifest itself more evidently in Lluvia Cosmica. The beginning is very much Tull inspired - A era, with electronics introducing the track which evolves into a technical instrumental with many changes and rhythm switches. There are some "operatic" female vocals in the background, bringing the era of Angel's Egg of Gong to mind. Psychedelic influences though come to a peak at Xskgriglam, due to a quite oriental feel (Zeppelin?) that the voices (Gong-like again) and the guitars render. Surprisingly the band does not really try to inject ethnic elements issuing from their South American origin. Yellenik sounds a lot like Camel and features a softer flute playing and a more mellow tune as a basis. Inocentes Perdidos is again like the 80's PFM, but for me it's probably the weakest track in the album.

One track from the original 1984 release (Prisa) is missing without reason. As I said above, the album includes four tracks - the last four- recorded at a much later period, reflecting a very different philosophy and style. The ambience is not anymore rock, but for sure more poppy and accessible, the tracks are acoustic and the flute work is more folky. Still, Sudyenin is a very interesting Camel-like long track, Campanas Al Viento is simple but beautiful, and Volver is a very very sweet ballad. Still, I disagree with merging this new direction with the old album which actually is quite different in many aspects.

Looks to me that this band had more than a musical attitude: they had a philosophy about music, which they also try to reproduce in the booklet. Mostly, it was based on ideas of the late Marcos Chacón. I am going to recommend this release not only because it is interesting to find out how a band from Venezuela sounds like, but also because of its high overall quality and the constructive variety in the music and compositions: hard rock to ballad, psychedelia to more structured prog song writing. As for me, I should get my hands on their first album!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Astrovoyager – Temporal Gravitation
Astrovoyager – Temporal Gravitation
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea/Dreaming
Catalogue #:DR 8436 AR
Year of Release:2006
Time:42:42
Info:Astrovoyager
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Trip Opening (1:02), Pendulum Clock (3:33), Princess (2:34), Winged Horse (3:52), Queen (1:50), Air Pump (4:15), Flying Fish (1:07), Bird of Paradise (2:51), Sculptor’s Workshop – Part I (2:17), Sculptor’s Workshop – Part II (1:23), Sculptor’s Workshop – Part III (2:54), Sculptor’s Workshop – Part IV (1:42), Chameleon (4:06), Telescope (5:31), Trip Ending (0:53)

I don’t know whether or not Philippe Fagnoni, who by himself constitutes Astrovoyager, has ever heard the first album by Enigma or whether it’s a coincidence that his Temporal Gravitation begins with a spoken-word introduction that’s as near as dammit to that of 1991's MCMXC A.D. That introduction, entitled The Voice Of Enigma, featured a seductive woman’s voice inviting the listener to sit back, give himself or herself over to the music, and so forth. Astral Voyager’s intro track, Trip Opening, though its words are different, performs the same function in an extraordinarily similar voice – inviting the listener to “take a space and musical trip to enter the temporal gravitation field.”

Okay – has that put you off this album? Don’t let it. I will finish my comparison between Astral Voyager’s album and Enigma’s, though, by saying that while MCMXC A.D. not only sold a zillion copies but actually inaugurated a brief resurgence of interest in an age-old musical form (Gregorian chant – as featured in the hit Sadeness from that album), Astral Voyager’s Temporal Gravitation will neither sell a zillion copies nor inspire interest in any kind of music aside from the sort Fagnoni composes and plays – “original themes between soundtracks and relaxation music,” is how the Musea literature describes it, and that pretty much sums it up. Before concentrating on specifics, I can tell you that if that description (along with what I said about Trip Opening) doesn’t appeal to you, this isn’t an album you’ll want to get.

I myself have a huge tolerance for all varieties of instrumental and ambient music, however, and I quite like Temporal Gravitation. One of the nice things about this album is that, although it’s short, it features fifteen separate compositions, all very similar but at least marked by obvious beginnings and endings. If I can put it this way, the spaces between songs actually help to sustain the listener’s interest (at least, this listener’s interest) in the album as a whole. The songs’ titles, too, invite one to attend carefully to the music, just to see whether, say, Pendulum Clock features anything like the regular tick-tock rhythm one might expect from a song thus named (it does, at least in the first part) or whether one can hear some sort of regal progression or ascension between Princess and Queen (frankly, I can’t). It seems obvious that Fagnoni wants to take his readers on, umm, a “trip,” and to an extent he succeeds.

The instrumentation is all keyboards, all the time – lots and lots and lots of keyboards, performing all different functions – but, for my money, the best moments on the album are those that feature good old-fashioned piano, which, set off by Fagnoni’s superb production, rings out resoundingly above the synthesizer washes that constitute most of the rest of the compositions’ substance. Check out, for example, Sculptor’s Workshop – Part IV to hear what I mean. Aside from the keyboards of various kinds, we also hear that woman’s voice (provided by Patricia Foust) perhaps a little too often – not just on Trip Opening and Trip Ending but in snatches in various other of the songs. She’s supposed to be “The AstroVoyager’s Voice,” you see – like the voice of the computer in Star Trek or of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey – so we hear, for example, inane snippets like “initiating shutdown sequence” and “invalid user” – at which points I find myself wincing a bit.

Despite my wincing and the sameness of many of the tracks, I do, as I said earlier, like this album; but your own opinion of it will depend on your interest in the ambient/soundtrack/”relaxation” genre as a whole. If, like me, you’re a fan, you’ll surely like this pleasant, superbly produced CD; if you prefer your music with a bit more bite and originality, you won’t find much to satisfy you here.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Cybotron – Implosion
Cybotron – Implosion
Country of Origin:Australia
Format:CD
Record Label:Aztec Music
Catalogue #:AVSCD008
Year of Release:2006
Time:68:01
Info:Cybotron
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Eureka (6:55), Implosion (8:53), Suite 16/9th Floor (3:06), Encounter (6:08), Black Devil’s Triangle (9:56), We’ll Be Around (3:13) Bonus Tracks: Abbey Moor (5:05), Peter Gunn (3:29), Unorganization (5:53), Detective (3:09), March (4:37), Eureka (Guitar Version) (7:31)

This is an entirely instrumental album. And it’s firmly in the vein of seventies progressive rock. Those statements will give you half an idea of what the album sounds like, and two more statements will complete the description: the band was influenced by such artists as Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Can; and this is a re-release of an album first released in 1980. Review over.

Well – not quite. You’re already imagining the (to twenty-first-century ears) primitive synthesizers, and you’re right on the money; and you’re expecting long, meandering tracks with lots of changes both of rhythm and of melody – right again. But as always, the important question is how well the band does what it does. In this case, the answer is, very well indeed. I’m going to spend the rest of this review, however, helping you answer the next important question: will you like this CD?

To begin with, I have to say that I do. I’ve already listened to it many more times than I needed to for review purposes, and it’ll remain in rotation on my CD player. Given the date of its release and my own tastes in music – and those are the qualifications I’m going to want to explore – it’s a very good album indeed. The musicians – keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Braund, bassist Mark Jones, and drummer/guitarist/keyboardist Gil Matthews – are first-rate, and the songs, though long and meandering indeed, are not merely self-indulgent in their length or variety. And I’ll put in a good word for those rather dated synthesizers, too. There are a lot of them here: although they’re supported by “real” instruments – drums, guitar, bass – the synthesizers are what one remembers when the album is over, so it’s a good thing that Matthews and Braund had a lot of sounds at their disposal. The keyboards are used for heavy string-like background washes (but I’ll ask you to keep in mind that, in 1980, nobody would mistake synthesized strings for real ones!); they’re used to state and restate main melodies; they’re used for texture, for emphasis, for solos. Keyboards are everywhere here, certainly the main attraction, although I must say that the drums, bass, and guitar give the album a satisfyingly grounded feel.

That said, it’s not an album for everyone. I can’t believe that a single one of my DPRP colleagues wouldn’t love this album, but then most of us (at least the older ones among us) grew up with music that sounded very much like this. But for younger listeners or ones who prefer more complex, instrumentally adventurous progressive rock, this CD might sound more like an artefact than like a living work of art (although I’ll maintain that it’s the latter). I’ll have to admit that I have no idea whether this Australian band is “important” in the usual ways to the development of progressive rock; I’d never heard of them before I received this album, I’m afraid. But even if the band itself isn’t significant in that historical way, this album provides us with a very pleasing snapshot of a more innocent age of progressive rock.

A word about this reissue: it includes six bonus tracks, five of which are from an uncompleted 1981 album to have been called Abbey Moor. Those tracks are very similar to the ones from the Implosion album, although I could have done without the version of Peter Gunn: if I must hear another cover of that song, give me Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s every time. It’s not bad, however, just uninteresting in the context of Cybotron’s much more beguiling originals. As a package, however, this is impressive indeed, an hour-long reminder of one of the kinds of progressive rock that many of us used to love.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Dyonisos - Dyonisos
dyonisos - dyonisos
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 113
Year of Release:2005
Time:74:36
Info:Dyonisos
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prologue (3:42), Moanalua Gardens (5:51), Keahiakahoe (3:49), Sunset On The Ridge (3:41), Omega Moonlight (1:49), We Will Never Leave This Place (6:24), I'm Ready Now (4:34), The Phone Call (5:14), Haiku (7:51), Come Along For The Ride (4:55), Total Eclipse (4:21), Crossing The Rainbow Bridge (1:29), Wantok Payback (4:31), The Guitar On The Hill (5:28), The Mt. Hagen Show (3:38), Juxtaposition (1:19), Makakilo Sky (6:00)

Dyonisos is the fourth album of the band Dyonisos which is the vehicle of multi-instrumentalist Dan Cowan. Their style is not very hard to describe: laid back spacey new-age neo-prog rock deeply rooted in the 70's. Influences - or rather similarities - are Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Moon and on), Alan Parsons (mostly their new-age compositions) and Camel (late 70's and early 80's mainly).

The music actually is based on electric guitars á la Gilmour-Latimer, new age arrangements á la Alan Parsons and mostly whispered, sweet but rather indifferent vocals. Tracks are rather compact, small and elegant, nicely put together. Electronics fill the atmosphere here and there, in an effort to render the "space" feeling associated to the album, which has to do with something like a space voyage. This reflects quite well on the artwork as well (see cover for a quite clear indication!), which is a collection of galaxies, stars, other celestial bodies and space stations. Narration and some background spoken text also contribute to this issue. Strange ambition to achieve such a feeling when you are dealing with "sentimental" prog, and in the end rather difficult and ambitious to combine with solos and ballads. Few bands made it: Alan Parsons was one. Do these guys make it? Not sure.

The guitar work is of quite high quality and ranges from acoustic to slide and slow solos. Vocals are often distorted which in the end weakens the result. Apart from guitars and the rather good synths, the rest of the instruments are disappointing: the drums are not inspired (drum machine???) and the bass is usually hidden. Almost all tracks are in a similar mood and it is hard to say one stands out from the rest. It is equally hard to say that there are bad tracks that you would want to skip. Dig a bit into the sand and you will discover traces of Shine On, Turn Of A Friendly Card or Moonmadness.

I am not sure how to judge this album. Sure it is an enjoyable release that does not experiment much. Sounding so much as their influences, they definitely avoid the chance that a progressive audience will dislike their music. I might even recommend it to a part of the prog audience that adores this type of music, but really not to people that look for originality, new ideas, mixed together with influences in order to produce something outstanding. Although I enjoy this music a lot, I feel obliged to say that in the end I don't see that much in it. It actually makes me wonder what is the use of producing albums that sound exactly like something recorded 30 years ago, with the music scene changing and evolving. And after all, if I am in the mood to listen to this sort of music (which I adore), I will prefer to listen to a record of the past - it sounds much more fresh and original. Personally, I am more interested in meeting the ghost of progressive rock present or future than the ghost of progressive rock past. Still, I have to repeat: it is a nice album! But...

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Skyron Orchestra - Situations
Skyron Orchestra - Situations
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Record Heaven
Transubstans Records
Catalogue #:EAN: 7393210231313
Year of Release:2006
Time:50:19
Info:Skyron
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Can’t Control (4:42), Sacred Atmosphere (3:20), Out Of My Mind (2:58), Situation (2:47), Looking For A Trace (3:03), My World Salvation (5:02), Desire (3:51), Living In A Void (2:11), Call Their Names (3:54), It Can’t Be Me (1:50), Cut It Out (4:43), Smiling Surface (3:33), Life Cycle (1:53), Star (6:32)

Skyron Orchestra originated in the “grey suburb” of Gothenburg, Sweden, at the turn of the century (about the time you were expecting your PC, your electric razor, your car’s on-board circuitry, your cell phone, and maybe even your spouse to go millennium mad). If I’m not misreading the Record Heaven press release, the band includes Veronica Lostjarna (vocals); Anna Glans (keyboards); Tomas Modig (guitar); Stefan Ohrstrom (drums); and Jonas Elgemark (bass guitar). (Please forgive the absence of diacritical marks in the names.) Situations is a sophomore release and, again according to the press release (with which I am in agreement), the music is a blend of 1960s psychedelic rock and the harder-edged, driving metal of the early 1970s. Even more accurately, I’d say that Skyron Orchestra incorporates elements of Syd Barrett–era Pink Floyd, T Rex, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, hippie bubblegum pop, goth synth melancholy, and even a touch of arena rock grandiosity. I get the sense that the band is still creating its ensemble voice, and there are some missteps on Situations, but there are some high-water marks here, too.

Technically, the CD is respectable. The mix, mastering, and engineering are well handled. There is always clear separation between the instruments and even in the more distorted sections the music is never muddy.

Musically, the effort is genuine and in spots compelling, but it is also often dull, repetitive, and flat. The press release compares Ms Lostjarna to Grace Slick but I didn’t find a similarity between the two singers; in fact, Ms Lostjarna is often shrieky, off-key, and monotone. Ms Glans plays simplistically but she does bring much colour and buoyancy to the music at times. Mr Modig’s guitar playing is workmanlike enough: he has a solid understanding of the necessary balance between rhythmic accompaniment and a well-accented solo. Mr. Elgemark is too subdued in his bass lines. Mr Ohrstrom, though, is obviously extremely capable and tosses in numerous clever bits that catch the ear.

Now, there are some excellent moments on the CD, no question. Can’t Control features an ominous, gothic mood that smacks of a psychedelic Black Sabbath, or perhaps a more frenzied Uriah Heep. It’s evident from the outset that, even if the arrangements are straightforward and in places bland, still the band is tight and confident. Desire offers a sweet, psychedelic blues while Living In A Void ventures into 80s, keyboard-led New Wave bounce. It Can’t Be Me shows Ms Lostjarna in full control of her vocal phrasing; her singing on this track is sexy and mysterious, reminding me greatly of Chrissy Hynde or Deborah Harry. The bass line on It Can’t Be Me is propulsive and the flanged effect recalls Revolver-era Sir Paul. Life Cycle gallops along with a lively groove; it’s a classic “chick rock” tune in the P J Harvey vein. Lastly, I’ll mention Sacred Atmosphere, which is the jewel of Situations. It’s one part arena-rock ear candy, one part R.E.M.-style guitar infectiousness, and one part Marc Bolan fey raspiness. The tune simply motors, with a fat guitar hook, very interesting lyrics, and keyboards that bridge prog rock and The Buggles. This song floored me: it’s catchy as hell but weighty.

So, while the CD has shortcomings (e.g., trite lyrics, sometimes undisciplined singing, a lack of adventurousness, a tendency to repeat motifs), it also has some worthwhile moments and absolutely shows a band with potential if it continues to develop and hone its craft. I prefer Ms Lostjarna when she sings rather than banshees; I’d like to hear the rhythm section become more aligned and more aggressive; I’d like to have Mr Modig even more prominent; and I’d like to hear Ms Glans branch out into some more fluid, more daring lead work. I think this band could be quite remarkable, but it isn’t yet (although Sacred Atmosphere is on track.)

I can’t exactly recommend this CD because I think Skyron Orchestra still needs to mature (or better, ripen). If you can beg or borrow a copy, sample the tracks I’ve cited in the review. As it stands, Situations is sometimes impressive but too underdeveloped, and if this CD doesn’t merit any incredible attention, the follow up just might.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

JOHN J SHANNON



Tea For The Wicked - Tea At Fred's
Tea For The Wicked - Tea At Freds
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Teapot Hall
Catalogue #:TPH CD 1005
Year of Release:2006
Time:48:28
Info:Tea For
The Wicked
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: It’s A Wonder (9:18), There’s A Man In Your Bedroom (7:12), Horse And Hound (5:29), Storm In A Teacup (3:26), Golden Virgin (8:51), The People On The Outside (5:56), Oh Shit (4:21), The Mushroom Song (3:52)

I guess I can’t call Tea For The Wicked the first “progressive-rock garage band” – I’ve reviewed a few other bands who might belong in that same category. And I don’t mean by that description to suggest that the band’s incompetent or that this album is written, played, or produced crudely. None of that’s the case. However, in a world that has so much great music to offer, we have to discriminate; and there isn’t all that much I can say to recommend Tea at Fred’s to the typical fan of modern progressive rock. But what I can say, I will.

If I were to speak of the band that Tea For The Wicked most reminds me of, I guess I’d single out Hero And Heroine - era Strawbs. But that comparison has as much to do with the vibe of this album as with any actual musical similarities. A song like Horse And Hound, it’s true, with some obvious adjustments (more about that in a minute), wouldn’t have sounded wildly out of place on that superb 1974 album. Not only the instrumentation, which features liberal lashings of acoustic guitar, loping bass, and bright cymbals, but even Arfa Roach’s vocals recall the progressive folk-rock of that era in the Strawbs’ career. Other songs – notably the instrumental Storm In A Teacup – might put you in mind of mid-seventies Genesis, especially during Tony Hands’s Hackett-like guitar solos. So, yes, Tea For The Wicked (a band actually formed fifteen years ago) is clearly nostalgic for the first wave of British progressive rock, and their take on that sound is certainly not displeasing.

Alas, I’d have to say that what this album gives us is mostly – and little more than – a nostalgia trip. In those moments when we’re reminded of our favourite seventies bands, the comparison never works in Tea For The Wicked’s favour. All the musicians do a respectable job, for sure, and the production, though indeed garagey-sounding, isn’t at all bad, just perhaps a little flat and indistinct. The problem, though, is that not only doesn’t the band offer anything new, but what it does offer ranges from, at best, pleasant all the way down to embarrassing. Even the songs that work best musically – Horse And Hound and Golden Virgin most notably – feature lyrics that make me wince. The former begins with the lines “And now we set the scene / On England’s pleasant pasture” and ends “‘Ello little fox – fancy a cup of tea” (what is it with this band and tea? Tea in the band’s name – tea in the album’s title – tea mentioned in two of the songs, this one and The Mushroom Song). Sure, it’s meant (I believe) to be a story-song reminiscent of Genesis’s The Battle of Epping Forest – but it doesn’t really succeed. And Golden Virgin addresses the titular woman with such lines as “You are my lover baby, / You are my inner being” and, in perhaps the most unfortunate lyrical moment on the entire album, “Your true and sweet romancing / Keeps my soul and body dancing.” Ouch.

And then there’s the harmonica. Well, it’s perhaps my least favourite instrument, but that’s a matter of taste; and I can say this much for the most prominent harmonica solo on the album: it comes in the middle of the worst track, a straight-ahead rock song whose title, Oh Shit, unfortunately sums up the song’s quality. To my mind, this one song (about the aftermath of a drunken party – a subject more suited to a Motley Crüe album than to one by a progressive-rock band!) drags the album’s quality down noticeably. And that was the last thing the band needed.

Not a genuinely bad album – certainly not (that one song aside, and allowing for what I’ve said about the lyrics). But I’m afraid I can’t really recommend this album. If I were the kind of person who frequented bars that feature live music, I’d be delighted to show up one night and discover that Tea For The Wicked was playing; but I’m not – I’m the kind of person who likes to sit at home and listen to excellent music. If you’re also that kind of person, I just don’t think you’ll find a lot to impress you on Tea At Fred’s.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Ring - The Empire Of Necromancers
Ring - The Empire Of Necromancers
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:PRF-036
FGBG 4650.AR
Year of Release:2006
Time:48:09
Info:-
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prologue (11:09), The White Sybil (7:14), Piano Solo (1:51), The Desolution Of Soom (4:23), Magic Lady (7:34), The Star Of Sorrow (4:31), In Memory Of Charnades The Pan (11:27)

The United States is a nation that extols participation in the pursuit of puritanical perfection and moralistic, W.A.S.P. virtue. It’s all a farce, of course, as everyone outside and many inside the U.S. understand, but nonetheless, there is a very heavy-handed, near fascist zeitgeist here that demands that its citizens fall in line and aim toward “perfection.” This aim takes numerous forms: perfect health; perfect diet; perfect monogamy; perfect religious sentiment; perfect physicality; perfect capitalistic entrepreneurial acumen; perfect mental serenity; perfect control over vices; perfect ethnocentricism; perfect hero worship for overpaid, prissy athletes, rock stars, and Hollywood starlets; and perfect obedience to the police state. Thus, America 2006.

Well, of course, the pursuit of perfection is a disease of the mind, as the Buddha taught us well, and at 41, I’ve finally outgrown it, so that, along with my distaste for NASCAR, the NFL, country music, the southern states, the Bush—Cheney—Rice triumvirate, false patriotism, invasions of sovereign nations to secure oil money, and fake boobs, I have a distinct distaste for efforts to make myself perfect. One way in which I resist those efforts is to consume unhealthy quantities of fattening, heavy, high alcohol content, stupor-inducing beer. My European peers at DPRP will laugh at this because, I’m in America, so what kind of beer could I be talking about: American beer is sugar water! But, it’s all relative, and for me, the lagers of Northern Europe and Irish stouts are more than serviceable. And when I want beer, guess what? I don’t want “lite” beer. Neither do I want “lite” pastries, nor “lite” colas, nor “lite” mayonnaise, nor “lite” pizza, nor “lite” chemical stimulants. If I am a seditious American, so be it, but fascist perfectionism be damned, I want strong, hearty, naughty vices! And, musically speaking, I do not want “prog rock” lite. Which means, sadly, that I do not want Ring’s The Empire of Necromancers.

There’s not a whole lot I can say about this CD, except that it’s “lite.” It’s Pink Floyd “lite” and it’s Camel “lite.” It’s King Crimson “lite” and The Doors “lite.”

Tracks one through five are by Ring (Takashi Kokubo, drums/vocals; Masato Kondo, guitars; Hiroshi Hamada, bass; and Yukitoshi Morishige, synthesizers/keyboards). Tracks six and seven are by Kokubo Synthesizer Works (featuring Mr Kokubo from Ring plus Kayo Matsumoto on synthesizers and Haruhiko Tsuda on guitar). Ring’s contribution to the disk is actually a live recording from 1975; the final two tracks were recorded in 1977. It’s not so much that the music is badly played or painful on the ears, but it’s simply redundant, bland, repetitive, derivative, and sparkless. There’s no point in breaking down the tracks because it really is a matter of “This sounds like Dark Side Of The Moon.” and “This sounds like Strange Days.” Any fan of classic Western rock music has heard everything on this CD a billion times, and heard it performed far better, with a lot more piss-and-vinegar.

So, despite my American citizenship, I hate Miller Lite beer, I hate everything “lite,” and I want my aesthetic pleasures to have kick to them, as well as some novelty, some uniqueness, and some full-bodied robustness. The Empire Of Necromancers has none of that: maybe it’s the perfect watered-down prog in the time of Pax Americana, but I really hope not.

Conclusion: 3 out of 10

JOHN J SHANNON




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