Reviews in this issue:
- The Reasoning - Awakening
- Nemo - SI Partie II ~ L'homme Idéal
- Troy Donockley – The Unseen Stream
- Magni Animi Viri – Heroes Temporis
- Piel De Pueblo - Rock De Las Heridas
- Electric Chair - In Leaf
The Reasoning - Awakening
Tracklist: Awakening (6:48), Chasing Rainbows (6:05), Playing The Game (4:13), Aching Hunger (6:44), Sacred Shape (6:36), Fallen Angels (6:24), Shadows Of The Mind (7:17), Within Cold Glass (4:41)
The Reasoning are a Welsh outfit put together by Matthew Cohen, formerly live bassist for rising progsters Magenta. Seeking an outlet for his own writing, and also wanting to pursue a somewhat rockier direction, Cohen quickly got four other like-minded musicians together (including keyboardist/ vocalist Gareth Jones, who played with Cohen on the little-heard album they recorded as Erasmus) and began recording what was to become Awakening. The final piece of the puzzle came with the arrival of female vocalist Rachel Jones, formerly of Karnataka, and sure to add something to the band’s visual presence as well as their musical one.
A quick scan on The Reasoning’s MySpace page reveals that, in the influences section, along with the expected likes of Rush, Pink Floyd and Marillion are the more classic/ hard rock stylings of Deep Purple, Rainbow and Queen, which gives a good indication of the sound the band have gone for here. Whilst in no way heavy metal, there is certainly a harder edge to the material than that of the members’ former bands, and if asked to give a short description of the band’s sound, it would be ‘classic rock with touches of prog and folk’. This is obviously rather vague, but its difficult to categorise the band as sounding ‘a bit like so and so’, as one of the things the band have definitely managed to do on Awakening is create a very identifiable style, despite dipping their toes into a number of different musical styles. Partly this is due to the band’s skilful use of three distinctive vocalists. Gareth Jones has a delivery in the higher registers, whilst guitarist Dylan Thompson has a grittier, deeper vocal style, and between them these two deliver the majority of the lead vocals. Rachel Jones joined too late in the recording process to contribute much more than backing vocals, but she certainly plays her part in the very fine three-way vocal harmonies which adorn all the tracks here, and are the icing on what is already a very fine cake.
Awakening kicks off with the excellent title track, which certainly gets things off to a flying start, with the atmospheric keyboard intro soon giving way to a hefty hard rock guitar riff which, along with a powerful rhythm section, drives the song along. All that’s good about the album is contained on this track – cracking riffs and lead guitar work, plenty of melodic hooks, fine lead and harmony vocals and a maintaining of momentum throughout.
Thankfully, the quality doesn’t stop here, and there’s plenty more where that came from on the rest of the album. Chasing Rainbows is another quality driving rocker; Playing The Game shows the band’s more breezy, whimsical side, with echoes of both the Canterbury scene and of Rachel Jones’ former employees on the chorus, and Aching Hunger lives up to its name with a passionate, yearning chorus.
The folk influences mentioned earlier come to the fore on Sacred Shape, although its’ more the folk-rock style of Mostly Autumn than the more traditional stuff; there’s also a touch of latter-day (Division Bell-era) Pink Floyd, particularly on the guitar work, and some good bass grooves are worked up by Cohen in the latter stages. Fallen Angels has, despite its title, a positive, up-tempo vibe to it (at one point it even sounds like the band are going to trip the light fantastic in ‘Disco Queen’ style, although to my relief/ disappointment (not sure which!) it never quite gets there!). Next track Shadows Of The Mind contrasts well in that it is a darker song, particularly in the edgy verses. Fine piano work throughout on this one, as well as one of Dylan Thompson’s best performances on the album, both vocally and instrumentally – the classic guitar solo at the end would not have disgraced a Thin Lizzy album when they were in their heyday. Rachel Jones finally gets to shine on final track Within Cold Glass, a powerful ballad which successfully incorporates traditional folk instruments into the song’s structure. The song is also notable for containing a solo from Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery which, as tends to be the way of his guest appearances, is far more in the ‘classic Rothery’ style than he gets to play in his day job these days.
The Reasoning have certainly come up trumps with this debut; the eight songs all have something to offer, and the band show they are fine musicians and songwriters, with strong melodic hooks, inspired instrumental passages and great vocal harmonies peppered all over the album. Awakening isn’t perfect – some of the rhythms sound a little leaden to my ears, and the production could perhaps be a bit subtler in places – but these are minor criticisms in the scheme of things. It would also be nicer to hear more of Rachel Jones, as she has a fantastic voice and compliments the two male singers very well, but its understandable why her presence is limited here – I am sure on future releases this will be rectified. Overall a fine debut – it won’t appeal to the die-hard prog purists, but those who enjoy the music of The Reasoning’s contemporaries such as Karnataka and Mostly Autumn will surely enjoy this, as will those whose tastes run into more classic rock territory. Recommended!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Nemo - SI Partie II ~ L'homme Idéal
Tracklist: Introduction À La Différence (5:35), Les Enfants Rois (2:44), Même Peau, Même Destin (9:02), L'homme Idéal (1) (4:36), Reflets (10:39), Décadanse (2:01), Une Question De Prix (6:34), Une Question De Temps (5:15), L'homme Idéal (2) (4:20), Les Visages Du Monde (5:42 )
A new album by Nemo means a celebration for me for ongoing weeks. This superb French prog band has released masterpiece after masterpiece so far and the second part of their SI “duology” about genetic manipulations has something special: For the first time in their discography they couldn’t top their last effort, which may also mean that the SI Partie I was so magnificent that there can’t be anything better, but I for one believe in Nemo’s potential and think that there’s always room for improvement for them. This effort is far below my expectations, which I need to say were fairly high.
So, why is SI Partie II not as good as I expected? First of all, the adventurous sound is replaced by a more conventional one. It isn’t bad of course, I enjoyed each second of the album but I’ve been listening to this album for more than a month now in the hope of that “click” moment but it still feels like that something is missing. The mind-grabbing melodies, emotional soundscapes, and perfect musicianship by all members of the band are still intact, but the compositions are somewhat just too plain for Nemo standards. Sure, there are still top class prog moments here and there, but they aren’t as frequent as before. The band still continues to build the bridge between the good ol’ prog rock and modern prog, and experiments with styles from different extremes like flamenco, metal or jazz as before, so the diversity is still there, but the overall character of the compositions are more laid-back and a little more straight-forward than before. The album is by no means bad or un-listenable but I expected so much more from the rather unknown prog legend of modern times.
One great thing about the album is that although it consists of shorter songs, they are so masterfully woven into each other that one thinks the album consists of one epic piece, yet the songs can stand on their own quite well, too. But if one wants to enjoy this album, he/she has to listen to it as a whole. It works definitely a lot better, since unfortunately there aren’t many songs one can call as a highlight. Almost each song has one or two brilliant moments but it is not enough for me to call it as a highlight of the record, which may also be good of course, because it forces you to digest each detail of the album as a whole.
SI Partie II is a must for Nemo-fans of course (I think they already have it since I’m way too late for the review, sorry by the way). The music is still great, but knowing that this doesn’t reflect the full potential of the band doesn’t let me recommend this record to anyone blindly. For people who are unfamiliar with the band, Prélude à La Ruine or SI Partie I are more advisable, but I’m quite sure this album also will bring quite an enjoyment even for people unaware of Nemo. Even though it’s not as good as I expected, it’s still recommended! You sceptics out there may take one point out of course.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Troy Donockley – The Unseen Stream
Tracklist: Wild Black Coast (3:23), Sights (3:10), Air (5:00), The Yearl (14:14), Carousel (4:55), Tunnels (9:52), Finlandia (3:45), Death Of Rainbows (3:16)
What do Iona, Magenta and Mostly Autumn have in common other than they all have a female vocalist and have each released a superb album in the past twelve months? The answer is the conspicuous presence of multi instrumentalist Troy Donockley. I say multi instrumentalist because alongside his abilities as a gifted uilleann pipes player are his guitar, whistles, keyboards and vocal skills. They are all put to good use on his first solo album The Unseen Stream originally released in 1998 and given a new lease of life with this 2007 re-master. He is joined by vocalist Joanne Hogg, percussionist Terl Bryant and bassist Tim Harries, all fellow members of Iona at the time of the recording. The long list of support musicians includes Duncan Rayson organ, Nollaig Casey fiddle, Chris Redgate oboe, Neil Drinkwater piano, Nick Holland vocals, Julie Darling harp and Andy Duncan percussion.
Wild Black Coast opens with Donockley’s uilleann pipes in all their majestic glory underpinned by the celestial tones of pipe organ with Duncan Rayson at the keys. This could have easily been the instrumental opener to any of the Iona albums. It segues seamlessly into Sights with a striking melody that builds in layers from Nollaig Casey’s flowing violin to Chris Redgate’s lyrical oboe and finally to Donockley’s soaring lead guitar and keys. He’s joined by The Emperor String Quartet providing the symphonic icing on the cake. It’s the albums most proggy track with a strong melody which may account for it being my favourite. The tranquil Air is another memorable piece thanks to an achingly beautiful oboe theme reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Mission.
At a little under fifteen minutes The Yearl is undoubtedly the albums centrepiece. Making the most of this time it begins softly with solo violin eventually joined by the string quartet to produce a haunting melody. Rippling grand piano from Neil Drinkwater ushers a change of tempo with dramatic drum fills from Terl Bryant and Enya like massed voices. Joanne Hogg adds her distinctive wordless vocals sounding as angelic as ever followed by strings and keys reaching a heavenly peak. Piano and violin weave a delicate melody before driving acoustic guitar, strings and piano build to a sweeping climax. A magical piece of music that brought to mind Guy Manning’s title suite from the One Small Step album and the early work of Anthony Phillips.
The atmospheric Carousel is built around a gorgeous violin and low whistles melody that hover above a pastoral keyboard landscape. The stirring sound of the uilleann pipes make their mark before concluding on a serene note once more. Tunnels moves across several musical borders taking in ethnic percussion, ambient keys and ethereal vocal chants. It doesn’t entirely work until two thirds of the way in where it develops into an infectious reel, a Donockley forte, building to a grandiose finale. Although credited as Finlandia the penultimate track is not Sibelius’ well known symphonic poem but his shorter Finlandia Hymn. Donockley’s version does full justice to this stately piece with uilleann pipes and strings providing a magisterial treatment. Death Of Rainbows closes not on a dramatic note as the name would suggest but instead Vangelis style ambient keys and voices.
When it comes to engaging the listener instrumental albums can so often be a hit and miss affair. This smooth blend of Celtic folk, classical and prog certainly pushes the right buttons although it’s best appreciated in a relaxed environment preferably through headphones. The only disappointing factor is that the high standard of the first half isn’t fully maintained in the second, drifting off towards the end. The tracks do dovetail beautifully however giving the impression of one flowing suite echoing the albums title. Donockley and his contributors have created an expansive orchestral sound that combines the romanticism of Debussy and the folk-inflected symphonies of Vaughan Williams. In terms of prog obviously Iona comes to mind as does Mike Oldfield specifically his Ommadawn, Incantations and Voyager albums.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Magni Animi Viri – Heroes Temporis
Tracklist: Colonna Sonnora (3:05), Heroes(4:13), Temporis (4:34), Intus (0:53), Finche (4:28), Pensieri (4:37), Tertia Vioilia (0:21), Mai Piv (5:17), Desertanima (4:35), Vorrei (4:45), Come Un Falco (4:50), Uritur (0:35), Sai Cose (3:33), Immenso (4:17), Fortis (4:20), Senza Respiro(4:02), Outro (2:33) CS Instrumental (2:34)
This one could polarise opinions in the Prog Community. I’m sure there will be some of you who will hate this disc, but equally, some will love it. Progressive only in the way it marries two distinct genres (Opera and Rock), the actual songs have a distinctly commercial feel and gloss.
Where many “Rock Operas” take rock songs and impose an operatic narrative structure on them, Heroes Temporis feels very much like an Opera in the grand tradition, The vocal melodies and sweeping orchestration (provided by the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra) are suitable grandiose and pompous. The rock band: - Marco Sfogli (guitars), Randy Coven and Roberto D’Aquino (basses) and John Macaluso (drums), add conventional Rock/Metal rhythms and a few guitar solos to the musical mix to beef up proceedings. Keyboards and programming by the project’s co-creators Giancarlo Trotta and Luca Contegiacomo help fill out the sound and add progressive filigree. The vocals alternate between male –the impressively powerful tenor Francesco Napoletano – and female –Ivana Giugliano, who give a less powerful but no less emotional performance. Dramatic choral arrangements provide some of the highlights. It all boils down, therefore, to how interested you are in opera.
Personally, I was impressed by the high quality of the material and performances, and admittedly some of the songs have a grandeur it is hard to resist but I found the commercial sheen and the conventional song structure too “easy on the ear” for my tastes. The press release mentions PFM’s Dracula as inspiration, but aside from one or two big production numbers, and the odd lapse into commerciality, PFM’s opera is much more musically adventurous and exciting. It has much more in common with their 70’s progressive heritage, but in a modern style.
Heroes Temporis would appeal more to big fans of Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds, Freddie Mercury’s operatic forays or some of the popular contemporary rock musicals. The playing, production, and packaging are all of a very high standard, surprisingly so for an independent production. So if you are a rock fan with a big taste for opera, then do not hesitate to get this now. Others should try before they buy.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Piel De Pueblo - Rock De Las Heridas
Tracklist: Silencio Para Un Pueblo Dormido (4:43), La Tierra En 998 Pedazos (9:09), Jugando A Las Palabras (3:45), Por Tener Un Poco Más (3:04), Sexo Galáctico (5:55), La Pálidia De Nacho (2:50), Vení Amigo A La Zapada (3:05), El Rockito De La Bufonada (2:53)
Short-lived Argentinean four-piece, Piel De Pueblo, released a single album back in 1972 before the members went their separate ways. Those members were Pajarito Zaguri (guitar and vocals), Nacho Smilari (guitar), Willy Pedemonte (bass, piano and vocals) and Carlos Calabró (drums). The album is an interesting blend of psychedelic hard rock which is very much of its era. Very highly regarded amongst collectors and connoisseurs of the genre, this is the first release on CD.
Opening track Silencio Para Un Pueblo Dormido sets the tone with a solid and rhythmic bass and drums backing wailing guitars. The sound is quite reminiscent of Cream in free flight, with the bass holding down a melody under the soloing guitar. The lengthiest track on the album, La Tierra En 998 Pedazos goes through several changes with the introductory section featuring the only piano on the album, mostly noticeable when the piano strings are strummed! The rest of this track and the next one, Jugando A Las Palabras, are laden with lead guitar breaks that are both fluent and full of bite.
Por Tener Un Poco Más features the electric violin of Héctor Lopez Furst which initially holds down the melody in conjunction with the bass and then takes a frantic solo. Interestingly the guitar is quite far back in the mix which gives the song a slightly different emphasis. Plaudits on the interestingly named Sexo Galáctico, belong to Pedemonte for some magnificent bass playing, although the track does tend to degenerate into a mass free-for all towards the end. La Pálidia De Nacho and Vení Amigo A La Zapada continue in a similar style, although the first of these two tracks has rather less soloing and more chordal backing from the guitars and the second is marred by a relatively poor vocal delivery. Final track El Rockito De La Bufonada has more of a blues tinge to it with the violin once again adding an extra dimension to the sound.
The album is a sort of hybrid between the psychedelic / garage fuzz bands of the mid to late 1960s and groups such as the aforementioned Cream and Mountain with a fair dose of proto heavy rock thrown in for good measure. The driving bass and soloing guitars will certainly find favour with fans of this genre of music, even if the vocals, all sung in Spanish, are a bit forceful and are slightly lacking in melodic flavour.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Electric Chair - In Leaf
Tracklist: Sakura (2:56), Open Plan (2:48), Planetary Orbit (2:54), Chairman (3:07), Hikifune (3:27), Cyclostrophic Wind (3:23), Mabuta Wa Tojirareru, Yuusei Tachi No Shigusa De (5:19), Toki No Tenshi (4:51), Bunsuirei (10:17), Windborne (7:41), Kikyu-Toujoukai (1:29), Centrifugal Force (3:30), In Leaf (3:03), Irakusa (4:12)
Electric Chair from the information I have gleaned thus far are an ensemble comprising of fourteen musicians spanning a broad cross-section of member vocations - a welfare worker, a company president, a graduate student, a nursery school teacher, to mention a few. They also span an age range of forty years, with the younger members in their twenties. In Leaf is the Electric Chair's second album and follows up their 2002 Floating release. Audio files for both albums can be found by following the samples link above.
Interestingly Electric Chair are completely acoustic on this recording with: eight mandolin players - Shimada Shigeru,Tobita Yoko, Hishida Masaaki, Fujita Michio, Kurahashi Yumiko, Chishiro Kei, Shimizu Akira and Kikuchi Sashiko: five acoustic guitarists - Hirose Ken'ichi, Iwashita Mitsuhiro, Ohno Motoki' Fujimura Shun'ichiro and guest Miyamoto Hirokazu. Finally we have composer Naito Masahiko. Worth noting perhaps that I detected other instruments not included in the above - an accordion, koto and acoustic bass (although I may be wrong of course - but the sounds resembled those instruments).
So with such an unusual line-up, and not a mellotron in sight, the music isn't going to prog as we know it. In Leaf is soothing collection of acoustic tunes combining Western melodic structures interweaved with Eastern instrumentation and timbres. So what we end up with is a pleasant cross section of influences including folk, Celtic, blues and of course Japanese flavourings. Never does the music become cacophonous and only a few of the musicians play at any given time, negating the pieces become cluttered. The tracks vary with a couple of pieces being little more than minimalistic plucks, but in general the material is textural and melodic with a splendid reverberant atmosphere. I cannot offer any comparisons, although very occasionally Mike Oldfield sprang to mind - albeit fleetingly.
"In Leaf" is a enjoyable album that forms an pleasant backwash or a gentle and soothing end to the day's toils. It is light, delicate and charming and although I cannot see it selling in the millions it certainly hit the right note with this reviewer.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10