Reviews in this issue:
- Daryl Stuermer - Rewired
- Headshear - Headshear
- Tinyfish - Tinyfish
- Spaced Out - Unstable Matter
- Skin Alley - Skin Alley
- Skin Alley - To Pagham And Beyond
- Wild Turkey - You & Me In The Jungle (Duo Review)
- 404 Not Found - Armless
Daryl Stuermer - Rewired
Tracklist: Yin Yang Boogie (4:27), Road Warrior (3:56), Determined (4:39), Deadline (3:35), American Fields (3:12), Morning Train (5:28), Wherever You Are (3:53), Highland Hip Hop (4:13), Transatlantic (4:17), The Least You Can Do (4:29)
Quebec based Unicorn Records have deservedly pulled off something of a coupe with this release from Daryl Stuermer, known to almost all the readers of these pages I'm sure. Originally rising to international fame with French fusion violinist Jean Luc Ponty in the mid 70s, Stuermer recorded four studio albums with Ponty (Aurora, Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Ocean, Civilized Evil) before becoming surely one of the longest serving "permanent-temporary-part-time member" of any band. His association with Genesis and Phil Collins being well documented - and no further comment is needed from me on this subject.
Rewired is a re-mastered compilation taken from Daryl Stuermer's previous solo work and sees him putting his electric (and occasionally acoustic) guitars through a series of highly infectious and enjoyable jazz rock workouts. The emphasis I must add here, is placed firmly on melody, and after only a couple of listenings the themes started to lock in - perhaps a little too sweet at times for my palette and lacking a bit of edge - but this is minor quibble really. The album contains an interesting array of styles - Celtic (Highland Hip Hop and the beautiful soaring The Least We Can Do); American Country-ish (American Fields); Pomp rock; along with I have to say, latter day Genesis - which is perhaps not too surprising. So it's not merely jazz fusion fest.
The tracks are short and concise and don't outstay their welcome. With the majority of Rewired's material taken from the Live & Learn album from 1998 , five tracks in total - three from Waiting In The Wings (Road Warrior, Wherever You Are & Transatlantic) and a single offering from Retrofit (The Least You Can Do), this is a very good introduction to Daryl Stuermer. So as Rewired is a compilation album it does fall just short of the DPRP Recommended tag for me... but this should not be seen as a reflection of the music
Those not familiar with Daryl Stuermer's solo work may well find much to enjoy here ... the music remains catchy and buoyant throughout and even with the plethora of solos that can be found on Rewired it never seems over indulgent or tedious. A testament to a gifted guitarist who has honed his playing over many years. Recommended to those who already appreciate Daryl Stuermer's work, or have one or two Steve Morse albums kicking around, fans of Steve Lukather or Frank Gambale and perhaps those who purchased Martin Barre's last release. Highly polished and enjoyable instrumentals. Might be nice to hear slightly more of Daryl's splendidly melodically and fluid soloing on the forth coming Genesis Tour!
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Headshear - Headshear
Tracklist: The Walking Tapestry (6:14), Chunky Navy Part I (3:48), Phivunk (5:14), Complex Nothing (4:33), Mechanically Separated Chicken (2:58), Urban Conversation (6:52), Viscous (12:57), Chunky Navy Part II (3:19), The Bitter Cold (7:10)
Headshear is a four piece consisting of Gwynn Adams and Deirdre Lynds on guitar, Van Spragins on bass and Matthew Guggemos on drums, assisted by two additional guitarists on some of the tracks in this self-titled debut. Musically they basically depart from all the musical interests of Robert Fripp. His King Crimson side (mainly Discipline era), but also his collaborations with David Sylvian. Damage and Gone To Earth are I guess highly appreciated records for this band, and I have to add, for me too. Moreover, Headshear sounds at times very close to Sieges Even's masterpiece A Sense of Change. Excluding a couple of outliers, a general description of their music is vibrantly interwoven layers of guitars, enhanced by a more fusion-like bass and technical drumming. Notice that I would not call their music fusion, given the absence of solo's.
The CD is instrumental and comprises a great variety of musical styles. Art rock, fusion, ambient avant-garde, even funk when the composition allows, but all that is beautifully merged into a quite unique and compact sound. The Walking Tapestry as an opener incorporates the glances to Sieges Even, being lyrical and featuring abrupt changes. The same characteristics can also be found in Phivunk. The band stretched the limits a bit further with the almost funky Urban Conversation, dominated by the excellent bass-work a la Jaco Pastorius or even Tony Levin. Worth stressing that the bass is astonishing throughout the whole album. More art-rock tracks are also present like Complex Nothing, the beautiful folky The Bitter Cold that greatly concludes the album and Viscous. This latter track is particularly reminiscent of Sylvian's Gone To Earth, as Taking The Veil and the instrumentals in there come immediately to mind. Exceeding 10' of length, it features ambient parts and drowsy soundscapes but sums up in more standard art rock terms, revisiting a few ideas developed in previous tracks.
Still there are also three tracks that are quite different. Actually they are much heavier and technical than the rest. The atmosphere they create is gloomier, and things move in a slower way, departing a bit from the rest of the musical repertoire that the band offers, relying mostly on solid and heavy riffs. I don't really dislike this side of the band's creativity, and I would go as far as saying that one or two of these pieces of music are welcome, however, Chunky Navy Part II is not very well fitting after the proper ambience has been set by Viscous. To be fair though, musically it's a challenging track with bizarre tempo's. So I'll just say that to me this is the least interesting of what the band has to offer. As pointers, I would maybe give late KC, like Power To Believe.
Diversity, variability and great technical skills are trademarks of this instrumental album. Even though a big fan of the style the chose to pursue, I am aware that a big part of the progressive audience out there views it as cold and a bit detached. Even though it requires a lot of attention from the listener to discover and dig out the hidden emotion and warmth in (or even inherent in) the compositions, the final reward is worth the effort. Had they only chosen a better cover for this release! Fans of Fripp, KC, or Sylvian/Fripp should definitely check this out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Tinyfish - Tinyfish
Tracklist: Motorville (4:54), Fly Like A Bird (4:11), Nine Months On Fire (5:46), Too High For Low Company (4:15), All Of The People, All Of The Time (1:22), Build Your Own Enemy (5:16), God Eat God (3:12), Sundried (1:56), All Hand Lost (12:26), Tinyfish (3:56)
Tinyfish hail from South London and were formed in 2004. The band emerged from a group of people that at first played acoustic clubs but because of the growing complexity of the music decided to venture on as a full progressive band. Two of Tinyfish's members played in Freefall together, a neo-prog band that flirted with metal. Another member of Freefall was Frost's Jem Godfrey. Simon Godfrey, the singer to both Freefall and Tinyfish has a more important link with Jem: they are brothers. It must annoy the band that in every review (even this one) Frost is brought up. Because Tinyfish does have a growing group of followers themselves. On MySpace they have a pretty massive presence that grew in a time they had not been touring and released no album.
But now it is their debut that needs to be reviewed. The band state they have been influenced by King Crimson, Marillion, Tom Waits and Rush. Although these influences are there in the tracks they are not always that obvious.
The debut starts off with a great track: Motorville, at the start a voice on the radio. The music is lain on a carpet of keyboards and great driving drums and cymbals. But it's best feature are the guitars although the vocal harmonies are also contender to that title. A great progressive rock song, with a nice tempo twist between refrain and chorus.
Unfortunately from that point it starts to go downhill: Fly Like A Bird is an OK song with a mellow feel but it does not reach the quality of Motorville, although again the guitar solo is great. Nine Months On Fire starts of promising with a oriental feel but then becomes a track that does have it's good points but I have heard music like this many times before. The track Too High For Low Company could be described in the same way: it does have it's good points, the firm guitars for the chorus for instance, a catchy chorus itself but it is the production of this track that leaves to be desired. All Of The People, All Of The Time is a kind of narrative bridge track to Build Your Own Enemy. Again not a bad track but just a bit too bland: it seems to drag on a bit too much. God Eat God picks up the tempo again, tasty guitars, vocals much more fitting to the voice of Simon Godfrey. Sundried is accompanied by a string section. The melody is not flowing but step to step, it makes this a headstrong and original track. All Hands Lost is again one of the great tracks of the album. Short guitar loops, a great combination of short guitar loops supported by slow drums, building up with a refrain that is more intense. Just after three minutes the guitar takes the lead with an modest solo. Tinyfish is a good Pink Floyd like track but maybe not the best way to end the album.
So the story for this album: one brilliant first track , some good tracks that have an intimate atmosphere, some OK tracks, some could have been better with a better production. Most tracks just need something extra to spice them up. For all tracks (except Motorville) it could be said that they need to be more outspoken, not up tempo or heavier or anything, but more outspoken. Now some linger on a bit too much. Still there is much to enjoy on this album. If you are into a soft kind of progressive rock with modest guitars and keyboards (no technical show off on this album) this will most certainly be an album to look out for.
To me it is another "what if?" album, what if all tracks would have been like Motorville. Then this would have been a masterpiece, now it is an OK album but nothing short of that.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Spaced Out - Unstable Matter
Tracklist: Unstable Matter (6:46), New Breed (5:58), Art Attack Pt 1 (3:15), Art Attack Pt 2 (5:51), Event Horizon (2:13), Big Crunch (7:52), Antimatter (4:53), Blood Fall (5:15), Glassosphere Pt 4 (1:43), Singularity (2:08)
French-Canadian instrumental fusionists Spaced Out have been around for a few years now, garnering themselves something of a cult following within the genre. Although I’m not familiar with their previous output, a quick glance through the DPRP review of their previous album, Slow Gin, indicates that, although three years have passed since that album and this latest (fourth) studio offering, the band’s style would appear to have changed very little. As Dave wrote (and as you would probably expect given their moniker), ‘there is a spacey, out of this world edge to the music’, and there is also a degree of heaviness, complexity and instrumental prowess which does point to valid comparisons with both Derek Sherinian’s Planet X outfit and (the daddies of the heavy prog-fusion genre) Liquid Tension Experiment.
The opening title track gives a good indication of what to expect – heavy distorted guitar riffs are overlaid with some jazzy piano, with a fluid, grooving bass-line underpinning this. The ‘spacey’ feel generally comes from the synths and various sound effects, and at certain times you could almost be listening to the soundtrack for a Sci-Fi series – although the twisting rhythms and complex time changes soon dispel the listener that this is any sort of ‘easy listening’ music. As is the case throughout the album, there are plenty of showcases for the individual musicians to show their chops – in this case, both guitarist Mark Tremblay and bassist (and band mastermind) Antoine Fafard get their chance to see just how many notes they can cram into a short space of time.
Elsewhere, New Breed weaves together some big symphonic sounds with an 80’s funk-rock feel reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Rock-It; Art Attack Pt 1 features the unique combination of heavy power chords and a Wurlitzer-type keyboard sound that brings bizarre visions to mind of a heavy metal band playing an end-of-pier show(!), whilst Glassophere Pt4 is the latest instalment of a series of pieces that runs through each Spaced Out album, and shines the spotlight on the more ambient, atmospheric side of the band.
I enjoy a lot of the output of both the fusion scene in general, and Unicorn Digital in particular – with Spaced Out’s countrymen Karcius producing one of the stronger releases in the genre’s recent history with their Kaleidoscope CD – yet I have to say that Unstable Matter left me rather cold. Having listened to the album several times in order to pen this review, its difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why, as this is a dynamic, at times dramatic, uniformly well paid and well produced release. I think my main bugbear is with the fact that the musician’s desire to showcase just how good they are at their chosen instruments – in particular by firing off solo’s at the first opportunity – takes a lot of the emphasis – and momentum - away from the songs themselves. An example is (the otherwise impressive) Big Crunch, where the drumming in the second half of the song – incorporating a seemingly endless number of fills – serves to derail the song and I found my interest waning pretty quickly. The solo spots themselves, whilst obviously impressive from a skill-wise point of view, seem frequently rather detached from the songs they appear in, and often sacrifice melody for technicality.
Overall this is a slightly difficult one to rate, as I imagine that many fusion fans will enjoy this much more than I did – this is just one of those albums that didn’t ‘click’. Therefore I’ve possibly rated it a little higher than I would from a personal point of view, and a little lower than I imagine many fans of the genre would. Not a bad album by any means, but not one that I personally will be going back to much in the future.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Skin Alley – Skin Alley
Tracklist: Living In Sin (4:38), Tell Me (4:36), Mother, Please Help Your Child (4:08), Marsha (7:16), Country Aire (2:13), All Alone (8:10), Night Time (5:32), Concerto Grosso [Take Heed] (0:27), [Going Down The] Highway (4:14) Bonus Tracks: Tell Me [Single Version] (3:58), Better Be Blind (3:00)
Skin Alley – To Pagham And Beyond
Tracklist: Big Brother Is Watching You (6:46), Take Me To Your Leader’s Daughter (8:45), Walking In The Park (6:40), The Queen Of Bad Intentions (6:46), Sweaty Betty (8:03), Easy To Lie (5:18)
Skin Alley was one of many underground, progressive acts to appear as the Sixties gave way to the Seventies. They never really had any major success, but as I have long been a fan and collector of the music of this era it puzzles me slightly that I had never really thought to investigate their albums before.
Previously available on a 2 on 1 disc, this current reissue from the superb Eclectic Discs makes each album available separately, adding two bonus cuts to the eponymous album, and nicely illustrated informative booklets to both releases.
The first album is the better of the two, featuring Thomas Crimble on bass (he left partway through the recording of the second album, to join the ranks of Hawkwind), and produced by Dick Taylor – the former Pretty Things guitarist.
The tracks are a nice mix of folk, jazz, blues and light progressive rock, with emphasis on keyboards, flute and saxes. Guitars are very low-key and there are touches of brass occasionally. Most of the tracks have a dreamy feel to them, with many jazzy interludes and a pleasantly folky feel.
Although this style is rather dated – the recordings are 37 years old – this is an enjoyable album which should please collectors of early prog. Perhaps not as good as Spring, or Cressida, the liberal use of mellotron and flute make this a worthwhile purchase in my book. For those not familiar with the more obscure prog groups, I can offer the early Camel sound as a pointer, at least as far as the keyboards are concerned. Best tracks are All Alone, Marsha and Tell Me, which appears in two versions. It was re-recorded for a single, including a new string arrangement, making both versions worth hearing. The B side is also here – Better Be Blind.
To Pagham And Beyond is not quite as good as the first album – the Mellotron has gone and Harmonica adds a more bluesy direction to much of the album. The opening Big Brother Is Watching You has a few proggy twists and turns, and the humorously titled Take Me To Your Leader’s Daughter manages to replicate the atmosphere of the first album with some striking lead flute. The band’s reading of Grahame Bond’s Walking In The Park is OK but just can’t match the power of Colosseum’s version, which I’ve been familiar with for years.
The second half of the album is definitely weaker, Sweaty Betty is padded out with a drum solo, and Easy To Lie is a fairly tedious blues-based song.
Skin Alley went on to record two more albums before calling it quits. I wouldn’t mind hearing them one day. For now, I can recommend the first album to proto-prog collectors and fans of flute and mellotron. The second album is worthwhile if you really love the first one and don’t mind more bluesy stuff.
Skin Alley: 7 out of 10
To Pagham And Beyond: 6 out of 10
Wild Turkey - You & Me In The Jungle
Tracklist: Propaganda (3:01), Friendly Fire (2:27), Split It Down the Middle (3:05), Snakewalk (4:38), Catalan Lullaby (5:40), Faultline (2:30), You & Me in the Jungle [featuring Jungle Dreams] (5:56), Northern Lights (5:46), Play Another Fast Song (2:33), Soldier Boy (4:56), U Got It (4:15)
Hardly wild and pretty nearly a turkey, despite contributions from Glenn Cornick and Clive Bunker, of early Jethro Tull fame, as well as Mick Dyche (ex-Maddy Prior Band); Gary Pickford-Hopkins (ex-Rick Wakeman Band); Steve Gurl (ex-Babe Ruth); and John Weathers (ex-Gentle Giant). If you’re hankering for something that sounds like either uninspired Foghat or Nazareth, or pale-imitation early-80s Kinks, then give You & Me In The Jungle a spin. But really, trust me: dig out Stand Up or Octopus instead to remind yourself about the truly vital musicianship some of these fellows once proffered.
As a long time Tull fan, catching up with Glenn Cornick and Clive Bunker had me reaching for the CD player as soon as this album arrived. And with ex-member's of Rick Wakeman's Band and Gentle Giant surely this was going to be a real treat?
Perhaps bear in mind that Wild Turkey is not a new band, far from it as Glenn Cornick originally formed the band soon after his departure from Tull in the early 70s. Having recorded three albums with Tull, This Was (1968), Stand Up (1969) and Benefit (1970), Cornick found increasing frustrations with Ian Anderson's control of the musical writing within Tull. Time to move on.
From the original Wild Turkey line-up along with Cornick only vocalist Gary Pickford-Hopkins and guitarist Graham Williams remain, however to mark the 10th anniversary of the release of the Turkey's third studio album Stealers Of Time Glenn Cornick re-assembled many of the past members. Including (and not mentioned above) - Brian Thomas, Tweke Lewis, Bernie Marsden, Terry Williams and Jeff Jones. Perhaps note should be made that Clive Bunker makes a guest appearance rather than being fully integral to the band's line-up.
Now my memory of the first two Wild Turkey album's [Battle Hymn (71) and Turkey (72)] have long since faded and gone by the wayside, along with the LPs, therefore I can only offer comment on this, their latest release. And any notions I had that You & Me In The Jungle might hark back to the halcyon days of prog were soon dispelled. Wild Turkey 2006 have a distinctly Rhythm & Blues vibe along with a some folk tunes/elements. Musically the tracks are well played as one might expect from such a line-up, and the production values are high. However as DPRP is a progressive rock ezine I feel that discussing the musical content of this release a little superfluous. Rather than spending time pointing out how and why this release doesn't fit the DPRP bill, I'll leave you to check out the Wild Turkey Official Website (no longer running), Glenn Cornick's MySpace site (links above) and CDBaby - all of which have several tracks for you form your own opinions with.
Ultimately I have to agree with John on this one. There is little here to attract a progressive audience and Messrs Cornick, Pickford-Hopkins and company have chosen a route that owes little or no allegiances to their prog pasts. One perhaps for Tull/Turkey completists?
404 Not Found - Armless
Tracklist: White Faces (5:16), Armless (5:58), One Minute More (5:42), Rolling In The Sky (4:44), If You Believe Me (4:23), No Glory (5:08), Risingh High (3:50), Native (4:22)
404 Not Found, that annoying message when a browser can't connect to an internet site, are an Italian band formed out of the ashes of "seminal power four-piece Vanexa". Apparently, drummer Silvano Bottari and bassist Sergio Pagnacco had planned to retire from music when Vanexa split up, but after meeting lead singer GianMarco Cabras and his friend, 'Balcanian guitar hero' Artan Selishta, found a new incentive to continue their career in music. It has taken quite a few years for this album to materialise, was it worth the wait?
404 Not Found advertise themselves as a Heavy Psych band and while it is true that the group do focus on these areas within their music, there is rather more to them than either descriptor would suggest. Take opening track White Faces with its driving bass, acoustic guitar interlude and harmony vocals and title track Armless with it's more overt psych overtones mingled with eastern influences. One Minute More is a more bluesy number that, with its interspersed acoustic segments and electric riffs, reminds me somewhat of Led Zeppelin. Rolling In The Sky lowers the tempo, and the volume, and, as the press release from the record label intimates, suggests that the band have a couple of classic Wishbone Ash albums in their respective collections.
If You Believe Me is a bit repetitive but features a nice guitar solo in the middle to break things up while No Glory has some nice psychedelicised passages but fades out just as it is getting interesting. After a bit of a lull in the last two tracks Risingh High (not sure if that is an intentional typo, 'risingh' is spelt that way consistently across the CD, web site and promotional literature!) spices things up with the best guitar solo on the album and a great tune. Final track Native is the only instrumental piece on the album. Heavily based on an Eastern Vibe, electric sitar guitar and all, it is basically a multitude of different guitar parts over layered. What drums and bass there are stand out for their simplicity and they way they compliment Selishta's interwoven guitar lines.
Throughout the album it is the rhythm section of Pagnacco and Bottari who impress, their years of playing together has brought an innate understanding of each other's style, giving each other space filled by heavy bass runs or sympathetic fills. Selishta depends more on supplying heavy riffs, although his deft touch on the acoustic guitar adds variety. Finally, Cabras has a decent enough voice that suits the style of music and he is equally as adept at handling quieter passages as he is the heavier sections, indeed I suspect that live, given the right PA the band might have some problems matching his output!
Although not particularly my most favourite type of music, 404 Not Found's debut album is certainly interesting and diverse enough to keep the listener's attention until the end. They are undeniably very good at what they do, and if what they do sounds appealing then check out their website for samples!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10